INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Classic Pop JUNE/JULY 2015 - by Paul Lester
JAMES: LAID & WAH WAH
This 4CD Super Deluxe Edition of James' 1993 and 1994 albums, AKA The Eno Years, includes two discs of rehearsals, demos, jams, B-sides, radio sessions and live tracks (twenty of them previously unreleased), as well as a fifty-six-page hardback book with new liner notes, photos and memorabilia, plus four colour postcards and four button badges. It's a treat for James die-hards, even if this was a rather different beast than the one who formed in Manchester in 1982 and gained popularity alongside Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. You could tell they were hardly peers of The Mondays and The Roses - let alone The Smiths - by this point from the front cover image of Laid, which presented the band with bananas in hand, wearing women's frocks. Perhaps this was a bid to throw in their lot with the grunge crowd, particularly Nirvana, who were keen to distance themselves from the jocks drawn, against the band's will, to Nevermind (Cobain was seen wearing a dress in press shots of the time).
After a stint in the US supporting Neil Young, James hooked up with Eno, always a sign that a band has ascended to a new level of success. As might be anticipated from the godfather of ambient and oblique studio strategies, Eno brought a new approach that James later described as a "journey of self-discovery". The result was a loose, warm collection, far from the bombast of Sit Down and Come Home, although the title track was a rousing enough anthem.
The Laid sessions led directly to Wah Wah when a series of textural pieces and improvisational jams for the former found a more natural home on the latter - think of it as the Zooropa to Laid's Achtung Baby. Wah Wah caused some internal friction, especially over how to present it - it was eventually issued as a limited-edition affair, bearing a sticker on the cover that read James/Eno: like David Bowie's Low and "Heroes", Wah Wah was as much about Brian as it was Booth and Co. But if you only care about the finished product, not the process, then you'll find much to admire about Wah Wah, not least the fact that it sounds about as unlike James as any James record to date.