Having found a situation they quite like, U.K. pop outsiders James reunite with producer Max Dingel and London's Rak Studios for Girl at the End of the World, their 14th album together. Building on the musical bed they established with 2014's La Petite Mort, the veteran Mancunian outfit up the ante with a big, vibrant affair that is heavy on electronics and pulsating dance rhythms. The fruit of a feverish, three-week full-band writing session in Scotland, James' collaborative approach has yielded a robust record with some mighty peaks and even a few extended jams. The two minutes of electro-pop riffing that introduce opening track "Bitch" set a tone that, in spite of all of its shimmering studio ear candy, seems built for the stage. Singer Tim Booth's defiant blend of wry grit and lush romanticism remains a hallmark of James' sound as he alternately rhymes "Were you just born an asshole? Rage in exile!" during the feisty chorus of "To My Surprise," before tenderly intoning "Nothing but love is the drug of healing" in the very next song. Highlights like "Attention" and the churning electro-epic "Surfer's Song" rely on massive, intense crescendos that are another James specialty and a sure sign that their collective gears are well-oiled even after several decades playing together. While recurring themes of death and mortality ran through La Petite Mort in a loosely conceptual unity, there are times when Girl at the End of the World seems a little stylistically scattershot and lacking in cohesion. Still, James have always spun a lot of competing self-variations into their music and that range is a part of their lasting appeal. Between this record and its predecessor, their creativity seems to have entered a fertile new phase.
Girl at the End of the World Review
by Timothy Monger