INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Independent APRIL 30, 2007 - by Nick Hasted
JAMES: BRIXTON ACADEMY, LONDON
Even at their several commercial peaks, James never belonged. Singer Tim Booth was the problem, an over-serious, spiritual outsider in the '90s, just as irony and laddishness swamped British pop. The biggest irony of all, though, was that James became masters of populist, literate rabble-rousers, Sit Down only the best of a dozen. And live, poor, pompous Booth was a seemingly possessed talisman. With an '80s past as dour Peel session favourites, they were the most under-rated, massive cult band in Britain. Until Booth's austere personality got too much even for James's own guitarist, who quit. By 2001, drugs and disillusion had split them all.
You still might not think they'd be missed. The hours it took the UK comeback tour starting tonight to sell out said differently. And the hundreds of couples just hitting middle age who bellow a welcome as Booth begins to sing Come Home make James's triumph over fashion complete.
Hymn From A Village, from the pre-hit days of 1985, then shows how fashionable they once should have been. The song reaches for the sort of awkward intellectualism that students will always love for life. "Oh, go read a book," Booth sneers, "it's so much more worthwhile." Maximo Park's Paul Smith, another Northern outsider, is singing the same thing now.
Comparisons were once more elevated. When Sit Down became a hit at Madchester's height, James were almost The Stone Roses. When Brian Eno's production took them into the US charts, they were almost U2. But the communal nature of the biggest hits they play tonight, and the genuine spiritual lack Booth's lyrics seek to fill, were perhaps too modest, too middle class, to conquer continents.
It is after James have jammed facing each other on a minor song, anyway, reforging their musical bond, that, the moment they stop, the crowd roar with approval. As Booth is visibly hit by the comeback's emotional reality, they roar still harder, the fans claiming their bond back too.
They play new songs, which stand up well. But it's when they veer into the home straight that James's latter-day purpose is confirmed. Say Something sees Booth fall into the audience, needing to "make a connection"; and then it's Sit Down. Booth, instead, stands still, drinking in the riotous reaction, before singing this caring stadium hymn about everyday transcendence. James have a few of those. They have a future, too.