I would like to preface this piece with my prior ignorance of the history of James, apart from the 90s hits, it was not until I took on this review and did some research that I realised that vocalist Tim Booth is not James, James is the whole band. I did enjoy their performance at T in the Park 2014, which was a welcome education to a 20-year-old at the time, but I have not kept up since.
Nonetheless it has been a joy to delve into ‘All the Colours of You,’ the mix of traditional guitar-led pop music song writing with a new myriad of sounds, including “contemporary psychedelia” as mentioned on an interview with the band on Absolute Radio, it’s refreshing to hear a band who have been around as long as James to come out with a modern sounding album that holds up against younger, trending contemporaries, especially listening only through streaming platform. The sound feels relevant, with tasteful employment of smooth hats, drums, and minimal basslines on tracks such as “Hush.”
The themes explored throughout are intense but handled with a profound maturity and appreciation that comes with an accomplished and sincere collective of artists. James have shown that they can raise their game and meet the moment appropriately in an age where it feels increasingly more challenging to express contentious ideas coherently. Tracks to look out for are the discussion of racial equality, inspired by the death of George Floyd on the title track, or the tragic death of Booth’s father after contracting COVID-19 on “Recover.” Meanwhile, “Getting Yourself Into,” is far more uplifting, reminiscent of comparable big UK acts like LCD Sound System with the driving rhythmic keyboard part and accompanying beat, or even more recent Coldplay albums with the soaring backing vocals.
There is a pulsing quality that keeps a good pace for the album as a whole, and there is no mistaking the design at the hands of the band and producer Jacknife Lee, (picking up a shoutout on penultimate track “Isabella.”) to create something that sounds fresh but maintains the grounded, organic feel that James are known for in their live performances. The album was clearly intended to be appreciated as a whole, bringing another aspect to the sound itself that makes this a manageable long play listen is the conscious effort put into ordering the tracks and linking them up sonically. On top of this, there are a few different vinyl and CD releases to the delight of record collectors and fans, with some interesting designs on the vinyl discs.
Coming into listening for the first time, I was scared to find another filler album from an act that has nothing left to prove to their fans, that seem uninterested in climbing to a pinnacle, stratospheric level of the likes of genre contemporaries such as U2, R.E.M, or Coldplay. Thankfully, this concern was utterly unfounded, and I’ve been incentivised as a keen listener to explore further into the back catalogue of James and had to stop myself from impulse-ordering the double album on vinyl.
Oh, and don’t be put off by the opening line on track one, ‘Zero,’ “We’re all gonna die,” – it gets better, I promise.
Listen to All The Colours of You.
Keep up with James.