James – Hey Ma

September 16, 2008

Like fellow UK band the Verve, Manchester based James has regrouped and put out a new album, Hey Ma, which arrives on the US shores with modified cover art. The original cover art depicted a baby reaching for a gun amidst some toy blocks that spelled out the album’s name. The modified (or censored, dependent on your point of view) cover has the baby staring somewhat menacingly amidst the blocks. The intent of the original cover art was to draw attention to the band’s alarm with the rising gun culture among UK youth. It was controversial there, and apparently too controversial for the States. All that said, how is the music? Well, pretty good, really, and sometimes excellent. James returns with their anthemic, grandly scaled sound fully intact and updated, all their wicked playfulness, irreverence and warmhearted capacity for empathy and hope still in place. The playfulness and irreverence go down here not as mere irony and sarcasm, however, but instead are coupled and delivered with genuine feeling, elevating a lyric like “Hey ma, boys in body bags, coming homes in pieces” into a cry of protest invested with indignation and despair. Leader Tim Booth sounds as good as he ever has, and even has a sense of humor about himself all but absent from most self-serious front men: “My mum says I look like Yul Brynner, too old for Hamlet, too young for Lear,” he sings on “Whiteboy.” Hey Ma is the sort of comeback that makes it seem the band never left, as James sounds as vital as they ever have. Plus it rocks. James fans should be rejoicing. Standout cuts: “Bubbles,” “Hey Ma,” “Oh My Heart” and “Whiteboy.”



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