James

Pleased to Meet You

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It's not so much that James weren't expected to make yet another good record; when 2001's Pleased to Meet You was released, they hadn't made a truly subpar record since the late '80s. But it isn't just another good James record -- it's their best. It's their tightest, freshest, most contemporary batch of songs, weatherproofed to stand the test of time. From the dizzily uplifting "Space," a Brian Eno-influenced and produced song (sure sounds like his voice is in the chorus, too), to the glacially sparse ballad "Alaskan Pipeline," the perfectly titled record is fresh-faced enough to sound like a band high on being in a studio together for the first time, but the material and the execution is too focused, too mature to sound like a rookie effort. As with the title track on 1993's Laid, an album highlight is buried near the end. This time it's "Getting Away With It," a song that represents the remainder of the album with a solid tune -- with some of Tim Booth's finest, most meaningful lyrics that aren't necessarily preachy -- and well-placed layers of synths and strings that accent an otherwise merely good James song. To wit, there's a power and a heft throughout that the band only hinted at previously. A band with a dusty best-of and nine previous studio albums isn't supposed to do this, unless they're the Rolling Stones. James' tenth makes you wonder what all the fuss over U2 and R.E.M.'s rebirths are about. And with this clutch of alternate reality Top Ten singles strung together in the disguise of a flowing record, they're making the modern pop charts (in the U.K. and especially the U.S.) look hopelessly feeble. Songs of adulthood, parenthood, and addiction have rarely sounded this exciting.

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