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 3 - Rehearsals, Demos and Jams.
Disc three is more of the same, a collection of (mostly) unreleased material from the Laid recording sessions. As with Wah Wah, it varies at what stage of development each track is at, but it's compelling listening for anyone who has an interest in this side of James' work and an education for those who think they just create big hits from thin air or pull them out of a hat.
Carousel, previously given away as a download only track if you bought The Morning After mini-album, kicks things off and is an early version of Say Something. The song's structure is there, but it lacks some of the polish of the Laid version as you get an idea of how songs develop in the studio from rough jams and blossom into the songs you know and love. Next up is Unknown Track 8 (or Jam 1 as it's otherwise known) and it's not difficult to see why it never made the final step to an album at the time - it's a beautifully fragile piece of music by dint of its method of creation and Tim's lyrics in parts are as much phonetic as written - Eno stated some of these seeds of songs should be heard in their natural form and here's the proof he knew what he was talking around as it's absolutely fascinating.
Dream Thrum made it to the album and the Rehearsal Demo has both that raw edge that its subtitle would suggest whilst being easily recognisible as the track on the album as well, lyrics have been retained in parts, completely changed in meaning and effect in others and drums and violin take control mid-song. Chicken Goth (aka Jam 2) is another Rehearsal Demo and a song that they spoke excitedly about around the time of the Alton Towers show and it sits squarely in the middle of Laid and Wah Wah. Like so many great songs that they've revealed live, it never quite made the last step and it's great that these aspects of James' catalogue are finally being brought into the public realm.
Things start to take a turn for the more obtuse with Jam J (additional jam). Bearing very little resemblance to the song of that title that made it to Wah Wah and a single release, it's very much a jam rather than a song and Tim's lyrics feel like a mix of being made up on the spot or a cumulation of ideas that he'd been throwing around so they don't always quite fit together (but they're not intended to at this stage in the creative process), but they provide an amazing insight into the process of creating lyrics as well as the music.
Next up are two early versions of tracks that made the Laid album. A demo of One Of The Three entitled You Were Born. The basic structure of the song is there both musically and the structure of the lyrics, even if only the title really survives to the final cut. Of all the tracks, Bruce Jam (Mix 1) is the closest to what finally got released - this version coming from an original jam they did of Laid track Knuckle Too Far with Bruce Mitchell of Durutti Column on drums during a session in Manchester where most of the band resided at the time.
It's back to the more Wah Wah elements of disc three and Jam D, which is the seed for Rhythmic Dreams, the raw material from which the dreamy short piece on the album was born. Jam E is over seven minutes long and perhaps the rawest source material of anything on the box. It never stays still, the sign of furtive minds in the process of creation with the result something that moves from one idea to the next without pausing for breath and Tim again thinking up most of the lyrics on the spot to go with the flow of the music. If you get James and the real essence of them, this will thrill you to the bones as we've not had this detail of the creative process ever before.
Next up is the Jam 11 (Slow Jam - Grotesque / Angular) - catchy titles abound on this disc - which has enough seeds for three or four songs, both musically and lyrically, as Tim moves from phonetics to a vocal-treated section that was begging to be used on a song, but didn't find a home amongst the multi-studio creative chaos. Jam 12B (Dreamy Later Singing) is another insight into the way James wrote, and continue to write, songs. It feels like it's a section cut from a longer jam that has seeds of possibility, identified by late-night listening back to reels of tapes of them in the studio. It's not a song per se, but it's even more compelling to the more than casual fan of the band.
Next up is Jam P, otherwise known as It's A Fine Line, another song closer to the finished article than some of the tracks around it. It lacks the classic verse / chorus structure of their bigger songs, but wouldn't feel out of place on Wah Wah or as a b-side as it stands. Jam P2 (Later) (Rehearsal Jam) starts with a reprise of some of the lyrics of Jam P, but then, true to their working method in the studio, it moves off tangentially into a different piece of music as Tim floats in and out, joining in when he feels it appropriate with off-the-cuff lyrics that match the spirit in which the music is being made.
Jam Q is an early mix of Honest Joe and contains most of the lyrics from the released version as well as the sadly absent Folk Testosterone Abort Mix under a slightly more sedate instrumental backing than on the final Wah Wah version. Jam R or Beefheart Jam is, similar to Jam D, the raw seed for a shorter track on Wah Wah - Beefheart Jam being the original name for the track DVV, which ended up clocking in at under half the length of this version.
It's a theme that's continued with Who Is Gospel Oak (early version) (rehearsal jam), a five-minute excerpt from a jam that the band and the Eno / Marcus Dravs combination mixed down to the shorter piece that ended up on Wah Wah and as it sounds as if it's about to go off on another journey, it fades away. There's then an instrumental version of Skindiving, which closes the Laid album - a song that followed a James tradition started by the magnificent Crescendo, where the vocals add atmosphere to it, but aren't the main focus of the track as so many of the singalong choruses ended up being on the hits. The disc closes with just over a minute of Jam 13 (Fast Marcus Has Mixed) (Rehearsal Jam), some of the music evolved into the Laid single b-side Wah Wah Kits, but the short improvised lyric section comes from somewhere else.
Without disparaging anything else in the set, this is the real purchase incentive for the die-hard James fans - if Wah Wah was an insight into the jamming process that they go through to write songs, this is laying that process even more bare. There's none of the demo versions that only sound slightly different from the original that fill up these types of retrospectives - this is on a par with the wonderful second discs The Cure produced with their early reissues - a raw, uncensored peak into the studio. If you're a fan of James, this type of material is your holy grail.
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.
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.