CD Review of Hey, Ma by James
Recommended if you like
The Smiths, U2, The Stone Roses
James: Hey, Ma

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


ost Americans haven’t even thought of James since the band’s brief moment in the Top 40 sun, but they were always more than just the cheeky, zeitgeist-capturing “Laid”; in fact, by the time that single slipped into alt-rock stations’ playlists in 1993, the band had been together for over a decade – Laid was James’ fifth album – and they continued releasing music into the new millennium, only running out of gas after 2001’s Pleased to Meet You.

The point is, even though you probably didn’t even know they’d broken up – and probably forgot all about James after selling your copy of Laid, alongwith your copy of the Spin Doctors’ Turn It Upside Down – they ended their five-year split with a series of reunion gigs last year, which have now borne fruit in the form of the band’s tenth studio release, Hey, Ma.

Fairweather James fans will be surprised to discover that Hey, Ma is chock-full of solid pop songs, while longtime supporters will be surprised to hear just how deftly the band manages to fuse its love of studio improvisation with a succession of relatively straightforward pop hooks. It was recorded by the “classic” James lineup that produced Laid, but the album contains little of the arty noodling that drove program directors screaming from 1994’s Wah Wah; although the new songs were jammed to life during a series of marathon studio sessions, they’re admirably bereft of inessential bits.

It isn’t exactly a reductionist album, however. In typical James fashion, Hey, Ma is stuffed with over-the-top touches – strings, horns, stacked vocals, and soaring melodies abound throughout these 11 songs. The band hasn’t lost any of its cheek, either: the deliciously catchy title track is a scathing, 9/11-inspired anti-war rant built around the hook “Hey, Ma / The boy’s in body bags / Coming home in pieces.” In poor taste, perhaps, but also clever – in other words, just what you’d hope for from the guys that slipped the line “She only comes when she’s on top” into a hit record.

Will it make much of a dent on American playlists? Probably not, but that’s always been more or less beside the point for James; this is a band that has stubbornly followed its muse for nearly three decades, with little regard for sales or fame. Fortunately for their fans – and those who like their rock sweepingly melodic and immaculately produced – that muse hasn’t betrayed them here. Whether Hey, Ma is James’ best album is a question for the band’s fans to debate; what’s certain, however, is that at a point in their career when most bands have either long since broken up or retired to the state fair circuit, James remains at or near the top of its game. If this reunion turns out to be a dead end, at least they’ve gone out on a high note.

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Around the Web