Laid, by James
Suggested by Mike Major
Before they settled on their current name, James were called Venereal and the Diseases.
They had a fair number of names in their formative years. There’s Volume Distortion, another VD. There’s Model Team International, and the shortened Model Team. There’s Tribal Outlook too, their name until they landed on James in 1982.
Band naming is a mercurial art, but I’m sure most would agree that the name James knocks the others into a proverbial cocked hat. In their honour, let’s count down the top five band names that are, well, names. The rules? The names can be alone or as part of a phrase, the names should not be the full names of real people alive or dead, and the names are not names or pseudonyms of anyone in the band.
Honourable mentions include Kings of Leon and Lynyrd Skynyrd, the second of which is an admitted stretch. I’ll stick James at number five to get the ball rolling, as it’s a solid name for a solid band. Number four, I’ll suggest Travis, Scottish soft rock at its finest. Number three is Creedence Clearwater Revival, with their country rock sound from the swampy heartlands of San Francisco. Number two is Jane’s Addiction, LA’s alt-funk-metal stalwarts. At number one, we have the godfathers of Prog Rock, the peerless Pink Floyd. And I hope you’ll join me in the comments and list a few favourites of your own.
So. James. Laid. A thirteen-track album released in 1993, when the band were, arguably, on the downswing of their musical relevance. This seems an odd thing to say, as it was the title track and album that supposedly broke them in the States, but if we’re honest we’ll acknowledge that they peaked with their rereleased Sit Down in 1991, and have been sauntering vaguely downwards ever since. That’s not a slight, mind, as Sit Down is a career-defining song by anyone’s standards.
Each of the thirteen tracks on Laid conforms to the luscious dream-indie-pop blueprint that are the band’s Bread and Butter. And they’re fine, each and every one, from the jangle-pop guitar of Sometimes to the understated bass of Knuckle Too Far, from the pure indie drums of Say Something to the whirling and mesmeric Skindiving. Apparently, the band’s true legacy was forged through their jamming and improvised live performances, which I find surprising as there’s little of the flabbiness and indulgence that I’d generally associate with such a statement. Their standout song, the titular Laid, is a superbly crafted pop song, with the risqué lyric delivered in high and fine style, and the drum-rolling bridge as iconic as any other famous percussion line you’d care to mention. Yes, Phil Collins and the Cadbury Gorilla, I’m looking at you.
If I think back to the early Nineties, I recall James being omnipresent to the era but never one to demand my extended attention. That seems to be a fine descriptor for my feelings toward this album: a fine record that never quite takes me where I’d want to be. Laid gets a worthy 6/10, with a nostalgic smile.