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James

The Morning After the Night Before

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Mercury Records

Fans of English folk-pop stalwarts James had to wait almost eight years for the band to reunite and record 2008’s Hey Ma after a sizable hiatus, but the wait was worth it. Hey Ma felt like a passionate return to James’ folky pop roots – a little bit of politics, a good amount of sincerity and almost as many catchy tunes as on Laid or Pleased to Meet You. It didn’t take nearly as long to release mini-albums The Night Before in April and The Morning After a few months later. While these records may not be coasting on the excitement of James’ reunion like Hey Ma, they really don’t have to – these are some of the more well-rounded releases of James’ career and perform even better together than alone.

For the most part, The Morning After plays the quiet, arty brother to the brighter rock record that is The Night Before and they complement each other nicely while managing to overlap a bit in theme and style. And both have a variety of moods to offer, sometimes in the same song (“Dust Motes”). Those tracks in particular demonstrate just how expert James are at crafting grand, bold expressions of major-key rock – typically with no shortage of broad refrains and downright elegant delivery. On the more rocking side of things, “Shine” jumps out of the gate with a gnarled guitar solo reaching to the sky and vocalist Tim Booth forcefully growling out his expressive lyrics — impressive for a man that just turned 50 this year and evidently won’t need to reconsider his vocation anytime soon. “Kaleidoscope” is a softer track on The Morning After that manipulates audience expectations perfectly, a sneaky closing lyric turning the whole song on its head with a minimal amount of words. What boldly emotional pop hitmakers like Coldplay and Snow Patrol do all over the radio James started doing 30 years ago, and they’ve been doing it better for far longer. In fact, “Dr. Hellier” sounds a lot like what Coldplay’s last album could have been if the latter had actually been exciting.

But where The Morning After the Night Before shines is in James’ tangible energy, a passion they brought to Hey Ma — an album arriving on the heels of a greatest hits release and an exciting reunion — and have channeled into another success. Stardom may be in the past for James, but these guys sound as vital and talented as ever. The Morning After the Night Before is not a masterpiece, if only because James is doing what they know best and hitting all the right notes, but these guys don’t need to stretch themselves. At this point in their career, not releasing hyped-up castoffs or soulless attempts at pop-relevance is enough reason to celebrate. But that feeling of hunger, that creative spark, makes The Morning After the Night Before important all the same.

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