It's always been a mystery why James' back catalogue hasn't been afforded the same reverential treatment as so many of their peers, but Universal are putting this right with a series of expanded issues of their best-known albums, starting with a four-disc version of their critically acclaimed 1993 Laid album, accompanied by the improvised album Wah Wah, recorded in the same sessions but released a year later, a disc of mostly unreleased demos and jams and a fourth disc of b-sides, radio sessions and remixes.
We're working through the Super Deluxe edition, one disc per day. Today, we're on disc 2 - Wah Wah.
The idea for Wah Wah came from Eno. All James songs stem from jam sessions, long continuous recordings of them playing whatever comes to fruition in the studio. They listen back and distil sections and work them into songs. Eno came up with the idea of taking these jams in their natural state and releasing them and so the concept of Wah Wah was born. It often gets mistakenly tied in as some form of apeing U2's "improvised" Zooropa album - mistaken on two fronts - firstly Wah Wah was recorded first and secondly, and more importantly, this is a much rawer form of the art, most of it taken as it was recorded and not fully formed into songs, something Zooropa clearly isn't.
That's not to say there aren't songs on Wah Wah. Pressure's On and Maria found their way on here despite being around since 1991 and 1992 respectively, albeit the former slowed down from the live and demo versions of that time and Larry taking on lead vocals put through some serious effects on the latter. The rough demo version of Tomorrow on here was to blossom into a Top 20 single when re-recorded for their subsequent Whiplash album in 1997. Furthermore, it demonstrates on the likes of Jam J and Honest Joe (two songs that still feature regularly in the James live set) and Basic Brian that sometimes ideas come naturally that aren't too far from the finished article.
The rest of the album is a real journey though. There's beautiful meandering mostly instrumental pieces such as the opening Hammer Strings, Rain Whistling, Rhythmic Dreams, Say Say Something and Burn The Cat, which contains sampled extracts from the shipping forecast. There's wandering electronic studio jams with interesting clearly improvised lyrics along the lines of Frequency Dip, Bottom Of The Well, Arabic Agony and Gospel Oak, the latter where Tim's lyrics reveal a stream of consciousness that gets to the heart of the genesis of many of his early lyrics to songs. There's also short pieces such as Lay The Law Down, Sayonara and the hopelessly romantic Building A Fire which are mere snippets crying to be worked further on and developed into full songs.
The James faithful are split down the middle on Wah Wah. Those with a predilection for the big hit singles turn their nose up at it, but those who dig a little deeper know that it is the real James baring their artistic soul, opening up their creative process to outside scrutiny - raw, real and putting everything out on the line. It's a fascinating insight into the workings of the band egged on by one of the most inventive writers and producers of the generation - a completely unique record and typical of James' contrary approach at times.
The album is also released as a deluxe 2cd edition featuring the original album and a second disc selected from discs 3 and 4. Both albums are also reissued on heavy double vinyl with a 500-only special edition of both available from Universal's webstore.
Yesterday's review of Laid can be found here.
More about Laid can be found here on the One Of The Three fansite and about Wah Wah here.
James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter. Some of the band - Tim, Larry, Andy and Dave - are also on Twitter.