Reissued and Revisited: James

Justhipper: The Complete Sire & Blanco Y Negro Recordings 1986-1988 [Cherry Red Records]

Oct 19, 2017 Web Exclusive By Frank Valish Bookmark and Share

When James is discussed these days, it's often in the context of a band that was launched by the success of singles like "Sit Down," which reached #2 on the British charts when it was released from the band's third album, Gold Mother, in 1991. Or the band that finally broke into the U.S. with the release of 1993's Laid and the randy single of the same name.

Of course, James formed a decade prior to its first British smash and was part of the famed Hacienda scene, championed by the likes of The Smiths in its early days. But this, as well as the band's first two albums on the Sire and Blanco Y Negro labels, is often overlooked in the context of the perfect pop craftsmen James became in the decades that followed. The band continues to be active and release acclaimed music, most recently 2016's Girl at the End of the World, but with Justhipper, Cherry Red Records invites close revisiting of the band's early history and its first two albums, 1986's Stutter and 1988's Strip-Mine, collected here in a double CD package with assorted non-album singles from the time.

On first blush, a debut that begins with the lyric, "An earwig crawled into my ear/Made a meal of the wax and hairs," would not seem to portend greatness. But Stutter acquits itself surprisingly well after 40 years. The guitar lines are sharp. The rhythms are engaging. The melodies are precise and not far off from those that would make James famous in the '90s. "Just Hip" is frenetic and wonderfully arty, led by vigorous guitar strum and frontman Tim Booth's exciting vocal eccentricities. "Why So Close" is a darkly hypnotic melody with striking harmonies and driving acoustic guitar. And "So Many Ways," the album's third track, engages like the best of James singles.

By Strip-Mine, one can hear the band finding its footing. The opening cut, "What For," is as tuneful as anything they released to reach the Top 10, and the album seems to just gain steam from there. Sure, not every track hits a nerve. What's surprising, however, is not that Strip-Mine sounds as fresh today as it did in 1988, something that can't be said for many of the recordings that came out of that year. Rather, the pleasant surprise listening to Strip-Mine, and also to a certain extent Stutter, with all these years (and with James' collective history) in the rearview is how much of a fully formed entity James was from the start. Sure, the band signed to another label, its second major, for its follow up, Gold Mother. But the two albums that make up this collection don't represent a band grasping in the dark. It's a band confident of its purpose and already excellent in its craft.





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December 26th 2017

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