The album is out. Finally. After a seven year hiatus, a reunion, a tour, a new best of compilation, Hey, Ma is finally in the stores. I’ve waited almost a week before saying anything about it for two reasons: I haven’t had much time to write anything and if I did after one hearing, I wouldn’t write the wonderful things that I’m about to write.
I’m re-hearing the album for the millionth time as I write this review, so I will write about each song separately. At least this way I have an excuse to enjoy once again each song with a glass of whiskey in one hand. Let’s do it. Glass in one hand, just press play, and start typing.
Bubbles: A soft start for a screaming album. The simple acoustic guitar riff and the steady drum beat open the door to a strangely calm voice of Tim Booth (the original, of course) . This kind of beginning reminds me of the beautiful Out to get you start to the hit album Laid, back in ’93. The song starts peacefully but ends in a crescendo of trumpets and keyboards. The lyrics could be interpreted in two ways: the “official” explanation of the birth of Tim Booth’s first son or, in a more broad view, the rebirth of a soul, in this case, the soul of a great band. 9/10
Hey, Ma: Third-single material in my opinion. Strong and straight forward political anti-war lyrics (kinda like the old Mother), simple song structure, small chorus and clean instrumentals. It’s a simple song, however, a beautiful one. Personally, this kind of lyrics isn’t my favourite type: too literal (Hey, Ma, the boys in body-bags coming home in pieces), but I can see the power rising from this song. Tim’s great voice isn’t well explored yet, except in the last bit of the song. An overall good song, however a bit distant from the rest of the album and the trademark of James. 8/10
Waterfall: It starts with a good drum beat (as always, courtesy of the master Bayton-Power) and after a bit the distinctive Andy Diagram trumpet riff kicks in. A single, surely. A relaxed song about growing up. As the lyrics say, Under the waterfall it’s cold and clear, after a certain barrier, all seems much clear. The I’m so cynical bit is a classic Tim’s footprint. 7/10
Oh my heart: The first really loud song of the album. It remembers me of such albums as Millionaires with a more common song structure and a really powerful guitar riff in the chorus. That’s my favourite part of the song. Tim’s voice begins to show itself in this track. It’s almost chaotic with all the instruments playing at the same time, and that’s the beauty of this song. Not one of my favs, but surely one that will get massive attention. 7/10
Boom Boom: A flavourless all at once start for this song. I’m sorry, but I just can’t find the enchantment in this song besides the pre-chorus. The chorus isn’t catchy and the guitar is too clean for this sort of song. It wouldn’t hurt some distortion in the guitar riff and the trumpet is barely doing it’s job. Positive mark for Mark Hunter (nice pun, hey?) keyboards and Saul Davies violin. The song that I dislike the most in the whole album, but a good song nonetheless. 6/10
Semaphore: Great start to one of the quietest songs in the whole album. Beautiful guitar intro. Angst lyrics, although a bit clichètic if there is such a word. The whole music kinda sounds like Top of the world on speed, although it can’t achieve that quality. I don’t like the fade out ending, but I assume that it was an hour long jam for an ending, which will do marvellous on a live show. Great song. 9/10
Upside Down: A passionate song for the whole gang. The first really passionate song in the album, I would say. Powerful, yet simple lyrics. This is not the cry about Immigrant labour that I’ve been hearing out there. Come on people, listen to the damn song: My work’s about words and sounds you can taste/Violins and trumpets, and chocolate cakes the words “words”, “sounds”, “violins” and “trumpets” mean anything to you guys? They’re talking about themselves and the time they spend away from their families, for God’s sake. Stop trying to glue a social commentary to such simple lyrics. I love Tim’s start in this song and I simple adore the passionate way he sings this track. It really shows he ments every word he sings. His voice too almost full potential in here and Andy’s trumpet, although not very distinctive, really creates a great harmony. Larry’s (not sure if it’s he or Saul here) solo is as powerful as it is catchy. Truly a great song and the best in the album for me. I would only change that middle soft part, but hey, that’s just me. Upside: A great song; Downside: None. 10/10
I just finished my whiskey, so I think I will be briefer in the last bunch of songs.
White Boy: The first single. Very well chosen, I would say. It really shows all their potential, however, it will be very strange for most people and won’t get much air time in radios. But it’s James at their best. Andy’s trumpet is the best in the album, and boy, it is great. Magical I would say, and most definitely, my favourite part in the song. Tim’s lyrics are the funnier and most relaxed in the whole album and his voice really shows itself in the chorus. Very good song. Not a perfect 10, because I promised myself I would only grant one, or else almost all the other songs would get 9’s and 10’s, and that would just mess up the grading system. 9/10
72: The only spiritual song in the album. Not really my cup of tea, I wouldn’t apply so many effects to the voice track. A bit funkier than the rest of the album, but a little change is always very welcome. The lyrics are a bit shadowed by the excessive effects, but are really powerful, in the same spirit of the classic God only Knows. It could’ve been one of the best songs in the cd, but lacks something I can’t quite put my finger to. But it’s growing on me, I will give it some more attentive listening, maybe my opinion will change. I will let you now if that happens. 8/10
Of Monsters, Heroes and Men: Just love Larry’s start to the song. It will mislead you, it’s a very sweet song, not the hard rock it may seem in the first second. I haven’t heard the lyrics with the attention they deserve, but up until now it seems to talk about the personal quest to surviving to life’s minor setbacks (either way, we’ll survive). Andy’s trumpet it’s a bit more lyrical and classical in contrast with the power showed in other songs. It also suits him, he’s a great musician. The crescendo end seems familiar but I can’t link it to any other song. Maybe to Sound, but I just can’t be sure. 9/10
I want to go Home: Starts of with a mix of Saul’s violin and some of Mark’s keyboard effects. The voice seems a bit out of tune in the very beginning of the song and it’s the only negative point to the whole song. The album starts softly and ends homesick (Come Home, anybody?), a recurring theme to Tim’s lyrics. They are clearly desperate (sex is NOT overrated, right guys?). It’s a first person monologue of a man who’s trying to pull himself out of the bottom of a bottle, crying to get his old life back. It’s a very pleasing song and a sad end for a great record. 9/10
And that’s it. I was really cheap in giving the songs ratings, but I didn’t want to seem to partial. To me, they all deserve perfect 10’s. I couldn’t end this review without mentioning Jim Glennie’s steady bass. Unfortunately, in this record, he doesn’t show the potential we all known that he has (Sound in the live cd Getting away with it… Live is a great example), but I couldn’t afford not to mention the only founding member of the band still in it (if we count the time they lived before being called James, curiously after the man Glennie himself). He’s a great bass player and deserves credit for it. And for reuniting my favourite band of all time. Kudos for you, Jim my man.
In overall, it is more than a simple comeback album. It’s not their best work, but it’s definitely in their top 5. It makes us ache for a next record, with the same formation, after all the engines in the complex machine that is James being well oiled. An overall rating of (drum roll David, please): 8,3/10
Give the album a chance, don’t give up on your very first listening, you probably won’t like it very much. But a warning is issued: If you re-hear it, it will grow on you.
And I know, such a long post is boring and time consuming to read. But give it a try, I spent at least ten times the time you took reading, writing it. For those brave ones who lasted until the last line of this review, I salute you!