Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Booth And The Bad Angel - Booth And The Bad Angel


Back in 1996, Tim Booth of James and celebrated composer Angelo Badalamenti released a collaborative album called Booth And The Bad Angel with Bernard Butler playing guitar and producing much of the record. Twenty-three years on, the album is released on vinyl for the first time on Friday via Demon Music. We take a look back at a record that got lost in the mire of record label politics and overshadowed by James' late-1990s resurgence.

Before James became a household name, Tim used to visit a clairvoyant called Avril who operated out of Affleck's Palace in Manchester. During one of those visits, she told him he would work with "an American with the name of an angel." Like so much in Tim's life, it was a sign of things to come.

The album can be traced back to a James performance on Channel 4's short-lived Live At The Dome programme in June 1991 where Tim was asked who he would most like to work with outside of James and the answer was Angelo Badalamenti, who was best known for scoring David Lynch films and series such as Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks. The two were put in touch and maintained contact, Tim talking fondly in interviews around the album's release of leaving late-night answerphone messages for Angelo with poetry and lyrics.

They finally met after a James show in London at the end of 1992 and plans were put in place to record together around commitments with James and Angelo's soundtrack work. Fast forward a couple of years, with James on a break following a twelve-month gruelling cycle touring Laid across the US and Europe, the time was right.

The songs they'd worked on were missing something and Tim cold-called Bernard Butler who took some persuasion to get involved, but eventually submitted and features on seven of the songs as well as taking on mixing duties and enlisting the help of Nigel Godrich to engineer them. The relationship between Tim and Bernard blossomed to the extent that legend has it that Bernard tried to persuade Tim to form a band with him, but Tim's sense of loyalty to James, with whom he was in the process of writing and recording Whiplash won the day.

The plan was for the album to have a huge promotional campaign behind it, backed by James' label Mercury Records, but fate was to play its hand. Danny Goldberg took over as MD from Ed Eckstine of the American arm of the label and is alleged to have removed much of the financial backing due to a run-in with Angelo earlier in his career.

The album was released in July 1996, following the release of a single I Believe that reached number 25 in the UK charts, and only hit number 35 as the stripped-back campaign was restricted to a few radio sessions on Radio 1 and KCRW and an appearance of BBC's Later With Jools show, where the rest of James, at Jim's suggestion, took on the role of backing band. The second single Hit Parade was shelved, although Fall In Love With Me was released two years later after appearing in the soundtrack to Martha Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence before being re-recorded for Tim's debut solo album Bone in 2004.

The album starts with lead single I Believe and it has a euphoric feel to it, a sense of freedom that hadn't been heard in James' major label albums up to that point. "I believe someone's watching over me, I believe in the dreams that set you free" is an invitation to leave yourself behind, shed another skin and do something out of character, questioning the chains and convention that keep you down with the challenge of "why be a song when you can be a symphony?" It's a message that feels even more relevant now, twenty plus years on and like most of Booth And The Bad Angel, it has aged exceptionally well.



The Dance Of The Bad Angels was often described in Tim's solo shows in 2011 as being about "wanting to make love to God, because I like to aim high" and the combination of Angelo's keyboards and Tim's innuendo-laced lyrics - "Homing fingers, starting to dig, raising expectations, lifting the lid... I long to lose myself inside your skin", heightened by Chloe Goodchild's wailing backing harmonies - take it to a dreamy sensual place, as Tim alluded to replying to the Timboothlyrics twitter account in 2017.

Hit Parade was the album's hit single that never was. Clocking in at just three minutes and fifteen seconds, it's a celebration of still being here declaring "Awake, made it to the other side, awake, I will not be sacrified again" and finishing in a whirl of Butler's guitars that give the song and the album an edge that makes it an even more compelling listen. Religious references abound, the opening line calling "bear the mark and wear the crown of thorns" as Tim makes use of the lyrical and poetic freedom of the collaboration to explicitly explore themes that he often felt unable to with James.

Fall In Love With Me returns to the theme of human relationships and the lines between love and sex - as Tim sings seductively "Ease your lips into a velvet kiss, while I enfold you, move your hands across the promised land, the seeker's guided by the pole star." Once again Chloe's vocals dancing in the background give it an ethereal other-worldly feel. Still one of Tim's favourites, stripped down for a revisit on 2004's Bone and still a feature on his 2011 Love Life tour where these songs formed part of the set on both solo album tours, it's one of the album's centre points, a show-stopping moment where the music consumes the listener even after all this time. It's no surprise that this was the song that was to head up the expensive promotional campaign for the album, and Tim mused recently whether that going ahead could have changed things completely for him and Angelo and all the knock-on effects that would have had.

Guitars and piano usher in Old Ways and once again there feels like there's a wave of optimism running through the song, countering the negativity that swirls round in the head because of what's happened before. As Tim sings "sometimes I fall from the sky, shoot myself down when I fly so high, trash my achievements, wish I could die to these old ways" there's a sense of coming to terms with how the unconscious self works against moving yourself forward, but as the outro declares and repeats with positive intent "we will clear."


It's followed by one of the album's more experimental moments - that sees Angelo's debut vocals - in a duet Life Gets Better, that has the feel of a transatlantic half-spoken half-sung telephone conversation between the two, Angelo quizzing Tim about life, music, dancing and how he shuts himself off - asking "Where did you get that mask?", Tim responding with a direct reference to his own days boarding at Shrewsbury School "made it at school in the middle class, something to show for all my parents' money."  A sparse repeated drum beat underpins most of the song and it finishes in a wall of effect-laden guitars.

Heart is so musically ebullient from the start, as if it's intending to lift you up on a wave and carry you off into the distance. Lyrically the theme of hearts breaking open and revealing new more exciting possibilities as the reward for the pain is one that Tim's returned to many times, but here it feels like the song is living at the moment that revelation occurs - "I saw you standing there, just looking so alive, and then you started to fly." It's a world away in intent and in the tone of many of the vocals from the maudlin nature of a large part of the lyrical content of the Laid record and the hard edge of its follow-up Whiplash, as if working with Angelo freed Tim from the constraints of being in a band and the pressure that entailed as James struggled with the line between the commercial and their natural instincts to improvise and follow their own path.

Rising is the album's shortest song, a gorgeous lament to a lost friend of Angelo's, but with a  positivity of release from the pain that usually precedes death - "no more hiding, no more holding, no more searching, searching for peace." Musically its impact is through its simplicity, understated with vocal harmonies swirling around just underneath the mix creating that feeling of peace and release rather than dwelling on the sorrow of death itself. It's interesting to note here that many of the themes explored on this record have been covered on more recent James releases, a sign of where the band's collective head space has moved to in the intervening years.



Butterfly's Dream, in contrast, clocks in at close to seven and a half minutes and has enough ideas in it for a whole album on its own and features Brian Eno on backing vocals. Written in the first person to heighten the impact of the story, but not about Tim he's said in tweets about the song, it's a tale of a man who uses his power and money and influence to sleep around, not caring for the consequences of his actions - "while kissing her I want her sister, is there no end to my desire, pledge true love, tenderly hold her, all the time looking over my shoulder"- it could be the screenplay for a short film too as later on in the song the elusive character becomes the hunted. The menace of the lyrics is replicated in the music, one repeating drum beat through most of the song with guitars shooting in and out, like sharp cutting blades.

Of all of Tim's love songs, Stranger is perhaps the most lyrically evocative. From the moment he sings "love strikes without a warning, I've lost control, my life's freefalling into new worlds" the tidal wave of the ecstasy of those first throes of falling in love are evident. As the vocals are echoed back as the song progresses, it feels like the listener is being wrapped in a blanket of that heartfelt emotion. The musical tapestry for him to paint his words is a simple uncluttered one, but one which makes the words even more potent in their effect.

The album finishes with Hands In The Rain, a song that encapsulates the mood of the album perfectly. Crisp and uncluttered production, the music employing a less means more approach yet providing an uplifting magical canvas for Tim to paint his words on to. It's the least transparent lyric on the album referring to teachers being killed, Toontown and yoga having a host of hidden meanings, yet the chorus line "hold your hands up and feel the rain" is a powerful call to let yourself submit to fate.

The record label issues and the years that the record has been deleted have meant that Booth And The Bad Angel slipped under the radar of many in the pre-internet saturation days, a travesty for a record that deserves a second chance. James purists might declare "it's not James is it?" as if that's even remotely relevant. Booth And The Bad Angel sees Tim take time out and work with musicians that allow him to explore other sides of his thought processes and creative spirit that didn't fit with the band at the time - which is exactly in keeping with the spirit in which James have worked. The collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti and Bernard Butler allows that to flourish and blossom making this record, in our opinion, as vital part of the collection of a James fan as any released under the band name.

Booth And The Bad Angel is reissued via Demon Music on red vinyl on May 10.

Tim Booth is on Facebook and Twitter.

James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.

James play the following dates this summer at Scorrier The Great Estate Festival (June 1), Thessaloniki Fix Factory (June 7), Athens Release Festival (8), Malta San Gwann Aria Complex (12), Isle Of Wight Festival (14), Manchester Heaton Park (15, supporting Courteeners), Toronto Rebel Complex (July 5), London Music Hall (6), Ottowa Bluesfest (7), Boston House Of Blues (9), Asbury Park Paramount Theatre (10), New York Pier 17 (12), Philadelphia Franklin Music Hall (13), Silver Spring The Filmore (14), McKees Rocks Roxian Theatre (16), Buffalo Canalside (18), Cleveland Agora Theatre (19), Royal Oak Music Theatre (20), Milwaukee The Pabst Theatre (22), Chicago Aragon Ballroom (23), Milwaukee Zoo Weesner Family Amphitheatre (24), Denver Ogden Theatre (26), Salt Lake City The Complex (27), Seattle Showbox SoDo (30), Vancouver Orpheum Theatre (31), Portland Crystal Ballroom (August 1), Reno Grand Sierra Resort And Casino 3), San Francisco Stern Grove Festival (4), San Diego North Park Observatory (6), Los Angeles Greek Theatre (7), Eastnor Castle Lakefest (11), Edinburgh Princes Gardens Summer Sessions (15), Doncaster Racecourse (17), Hardwick Live (18) Festival Cabaret Vert, Charleville-Mézières (24), Knebworth Cool Britannia (31), Porto Parque Da Pasteleira (September 13) and Benidorm Visor Festival (14).

We also run the One Of The Three James archive, the most detailed resource for information about the band, and the site also has a Facebook and Twitter page.

TimBoothLyricADay, whose posts often lead to Tim explaining his thought processes behind the lyrics, can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
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