Two years after their last release, James yet again return to the attention of music fans with their 15th studio album, ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’. The band is now an eight-piece, so theoretically the album should pack a punch. However, that may not be the case.
Starting the album is ‘Hank’, a song that has taken the top spot for the most politically angsty song I’ve ever listened to, probably. The opening drums and fuzzy guitars provide feelings of both power and uncertainty, much like the divide between the American public at the moment. The lyrics match the ambience and are as provoking as they are thoughtful. Personal highlight is “This President’s a dangerous tool”. The song covers issues like police brutality and gun massacres whilst injecting 1984 vibes into every verse. Super unapologetic and brazen, this is the song to listen to if you’re angry after watching the news.
Just as you start to suspect that this album will reignite the Sex Pistols angst, ‘Coming Home (Pt.2)’ jumps out at you. Possibly the polar opposite of ‘Hank‘, this song is a lighter track about a musician missing their child. Tim Booth’s vocals really start to shine through, and the chorus will be stuck in your head.
A song about fake news that has so much going on, it’s hard to keep up with ‘Heads’. This is where the eight-piece lineup really takes hold, but not in a good way. It seems like everyone wanted their moment in the limelight during this song. Musically diverse but overbearing in places, ‘Heads’ had so much potential which is quickly whisked away. Stripping it back would have undoubtedly worked better, saving it from sounding like a primary school music lesson.
The surprises continue into ‘Extraordinary Times’. With drums mirroring that of 80s power rock and a guitar riff that cuts through the speakers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is the start of a Def Leppard track. But the lyrics signal that this song is only suitable for the back of an adult store. Don’t’ believe me? Check out the opening lyric: “I wanna f**k you until we break through into other dimensions”. We really do live in extraordinary times where this song happened.
When you’re close to giving up and think that the album has lost its way completely, you stumble upon ‘Backwards Glances’. So intimate and pure, it’s hard to believe that it came from the same band that were giving every instrument an experimental whirl only a few songs previously. Unexpectedly beautiful and caring, the ballad is one of the most accessible tracks on the album. Booth’s warbling vocals combined with sultry guitars and a delicate beat show the band’s gentler side.
The final verdict is mixed. There are some brilliant songs on ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’ that really stand out. But at the same time, there are songs that clearly needed to be thought about a bit more before reaching the public’s ears. Perhaps James need to take a step back and really listen to their material and consider cutting down their composition.