Review Summary: Somehow still not tired, still ready to break down paper walls
The first six months after I left school, I was acutely aware that I had not had any moments in my life as transcendent as James’ “Sometimes” sounds. Indeed, I believed this band had lied to me with all their outdoing of U2 at U2’s game. Then, one night after going out with my best friend and his girl (and a few randoms), we all got drunk and stopped off at a tiny patch of stony pseudo-beach. Everyone foolishly stripped down to run into the waves without too much thought. The water looked like black silicon streaked with white specks the colour of UFO exhaust fumes, and it was muscle spasm cold. When the sea dumped me on the shore at one point, I got up slowly and one half of my body was covered in pebble residue mixed with sand, like some child’s art project. The rain started to fall, and everyone was grinning and stupid, and I forgave James.
While “Laid” has a certain outsized spirit, the sound lives in a comforting space. There’s a confidence and conclusiveness that everything will happen at the right time, the right pace. It’s a bit like being on a train where you have the seat to yourself. You must go somewhere, be punctual, do something important, but you’re calm. It’s early morning, maybe everything is a bit blue still, but that’s ok, you’re just anticipating the sun warming your face with patient pleasure.
The songs that capture this trancelike state haunt you in a friendly way – “Out to get you”, “Dream Thrum”, “Five-O”, “Everybody knows”, “Knuckle to far”, “P.S” etc. hum with perfect pacing. The guitar tone of the slide playing is incredibly signature on this album and complements everything – strangely clean and relaxed, but also soulful, indicative of melancholy that leaves the spirit undiminished. The bass wants you breathe with it, look it in eye, get your heartbeat in sync, be comfortable.
A few tracks stand a little outside this familiar cocoon - “Sometimes” shares that reassuring energy but is stiffer, with bright slabs of stiff acoustic strumming and wild poetic vocal delivery. The band improvised up a chorus but saved the surprise of it for legendary producer Brian Eno, who described recording it as one of the highlights of his musical career. Possibly the weakest track (but perhaps serving as a palette cleanser) is “Low, low, low”. The track maybe doesn’t have that same sense of opportune magic and perhaps moves along in a bit of a pedestrian mid-tempo gait. This malaise is instantly dispelled by the overplayed and yet perennially amazing title track. The gullies and pools of the acoustic guitar keep you bobbing like a cork until the snappy snare buildups. Tim Booth channels his inner shy swan with lyrically appropriate vocal swoons at the end.
With “Laid”, James manage to transcend the limitations of the conventional pop rock record and create the atmosphere of being in a dream. Even if they’re out to get you, even if you’re insecure, you’re only one moment from waking to see the rain on the sea.