A ‘pandemic album’ may have been an alien concept 2 years ago, however as we (hopefully) emerge from this crisis, there is sure to be an influx of new music inspired by these strange and difficult times. If you had to pick one album to illustrate the peculiar blip on our calendars that was 2020, James’ latest offering is your best bet. The band began working on ‘All the Colours of You’ in early 2020 and it is finally set to release on 4th June 2021, and I can guarantee any who listen to it will agree it was worth the wait.
Coincidentally, James’ 16th studio album is also a departure from the familiar for the band in its creation. ‘All the Colours of You’ is their first record with new label Caroline International and Grammy winning producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee. The pandemic coupled with Tim Booth living in California provided some logistical challenges in the usual recording process, resulting the rest of the band sending in their parts remotely. Where in the past this may have been a hindrance, now we all know too well what the wonders of modern technology can do, allowing us to work on almost anything from the comfort of our own living rooms. This just goes to show even seasoned rockstars can’t escape the odd zoom meeting!
Opening track, Zero really sets the tone for what is to come on this album. It begins with a distorted jumble of vocals interspersed between the notes of a lone piano, contrasting the chaotic and the serene. Tim Booth’s instantly recognisable vocals cut through with the stark “We’re all gonna’ die, that’s the truth”. A line, which could be a contender for the bleakest opening of an album ever. The frankness comes as no surprise to fans of James, who know they have a habit of telling it how it is. Tim’s next instruction, “Quit measuring time, by money and youth” also strikes a chord with many, as the pandemic has shown us the value of health and the fragility of wealth. The chorus “Some days I go no, some days I go yeah, some days I go whoa” perfectly demonstrates the vast range of oscillating emotions we have all experienced over the past year as we get to grips with the ‘post-Covid’ ‘new-normal’ version of life. Despite the gloomy subject matter of the lyrics as the other instruments kick in, Andy Diagram’s trumpets lift the mood creating an air of hope. Recover follows a similar motif, a song that deals with the passing of Tim’s father-in-law. The song is a raw and honest portrayal of the grief. The repeated message “it will be alright” and “we will remember your wicked sense of fun” brings the focus on the small comfort remembering the true spirit of a loved one. This is a theme across the record and James’ wider career; they find the light in some of the darkest subjects.
Title track All the Colours of You appears to tell the story of a fraught relationship worsened by the pandemic and pressures of “quarantine with you”. The song also examines prevalent political and societal issues such as racial injustice, the message made more prominent in relation to recent tragedies such as the death of George Floyd. The real fraught relationship exposed in this song is between Tim Booth himself and American politics. After living in the US throughout the Trump era, Tim has witnessed the repercussions of Trump’s divisive rhetoric, creating an even more “disunited states” than before. Continuing on a theme, Miss America is a slow ballad like track, which casts a cynical eye over the conservative right-wing nature of traditional ‘American Values’.
Beautiful beaches is one of the most upbeat and joyful sounding tracks on the album. The driving drumbeat, guitar riffs and festival ready clap along section mean you could easily mistake this song for a superficial, feel good holiday anthem, ready for when travel opens up again. The real story behind the lyrics is much darker. The song depicts feelings of fear and helplessness that ultimately lead to Booth’s family leaving their home in California. This was due to the devastating wildfires, which only narrowly missed their house. The threat of climate change strongly features throughout the album especially in the post-apocalyptic Wherever it Takes Us which has all the elements of both a 90s industrial rock and rave track.
All the Colours of You is worlds away from, the folky guitar sounds of fan favourites Laid and Sit Down. For those looking for something more like the James of old, latest single Isabella Does not disappoint with echoes of 1994’s hit Tomorrow. This new record is an example of a band whose career spans decades striving to reinvent their sound once again, whilst still commenting on universally relatable issues. All The Colours of You really is a product of its environment. From the production methods to the lyrical content, right down to the artwork this album works perfectly as a time capsule for some of the strangest times in living memory.
Pre-order All The Colours of You here: https://james.lnk.to/AllTheColoursOfYouWE/
James are due to play a range of UK festivals this summer followed by a winter arena tour. Tickets available here: https://wearejames.com/live/