Thursday 4 April 2024

James - Pudding

James release their eighteenth studio album Yummy on April 12th. The deluxe edition features another twelve tracks, collectively known as Pudding, which feature outtakes and demos and jams from the sessions. Even in their mostly unfinished state they provide a fascinating insight into the band’s songwriting methods that’s often talked about but rarely made public.

Fans of their 1994 improvised album Wah Wah which was recorded at the same time as the Laid album will find plenty to love here, but so will the more casual fan for whom the rawness of those jams was too esoterical and often lacking a traditional strong structure. Pudding has those moments but feels like a work in progress for the most part, songs that were in consideration for the album in the early stages but didn't make the cut but live and breathe as pieces in their own right. 

The first track Anyone But You is the only finished track on Pudding. An upbeat dissection of the modern phenomenon of online dating and the disposability of relationship - “shipwrecked again, shit sex again, why can’t we just have fun” - set to bold electronic drums and synths with a beautiful breakdown. As a standalone song it's strong, but doesn't quite fit the mood of the rest of Yummy.

The remaining eleven songs are where things get really interesting. In breakdowns of songs from previous albums Tim has often referenced key lyrics coming in the first jam and you can hear these surrounded by phonetics whilst the band's technique of dissecting jams and picking out the most interesting sections from listening back to them and working those ideas into full songs is brought into plain sight.

Structures are therefore far less rigid across Pudding than you'd expect from a traditional James record, some of the pieces have enough base material to create half a dozen songs as they jump from one idea to the next which makes it an absolutely fascinating piece of work, moments of experimentation sitting next to sections that feel like the birth of the next anthem. The music's sparse in places, almost not there, but in others it's full on, overpowering, kitchen sink thrown at it, often heavily electronic given the nature of the jamming process which involves drum machines.

Close Enough has very little in terms of actual lyrics, but the melody in the phonetic vocals holds it all together like a mysterious film soundtrack. Mine To Lose starts with fuzzed up vocals before dropping into a dreamy trance like section peppered with phonetic vocals, shards of horns and gorgeous harmonies from Chloe Alper, suggesting this one had been worked on by more of the band as it progressed to this stage.

Activist Song is over seven minutes long, and like recent single Our World, deals with the destruction of the planet, - "everybody go hell, everybody go no, to get our shit together, all these arseholes gonna blow up our world... these motherfucking arseholes think they'll profit from destroying our world" - with slightly cheesy backing vocals doing the call and response on hell and no. It's one of the closest pieces on Pudding to a finished song.

Won't Be The Same is a tender subtle builder, full of warmth musically with dream-like qualities. Lyrics are partly formed but submerge themselves into the music's beauty to the point that trying to decipher them would detract from the impact. Tell Me Something is an example of the chorus line coming early in the song process, the verses are phonetic whilst the chorus has the simple line "tell me something I don't know" - the song itself has the rustic charm that historically sat with James b-sides and some of their best work.

That Pudding is a collection of jams is made clear by the title of the next track Poolewe Day 1 Jam 4. The phonetic lyrics here fit perfectly into the structure of the jam as if they're written in a foreign language other than the odd decipherable English word - "someone to burn" repeated throughout in different sections. It's an uplifting piece of music as is Arpen Charp, a made up phrase as far as we can tell, that has a call and response verse that features two very different sections, one quick fire, one more melodic before the dreamy chorus line "Arpen Charp, where did our love go" sung wistfully. It has the birthing marks of the jam session visible for all to hear.

The next three songs - Deliver The Dawn, Something Of A Pleasure and Walk Tall - feel like they've gone further down the development from jams to songs than what's gone before, reminiscent of the mythical unreleased Whiplash Sessions tapes that leaked from the recording of that album. The former is underpinned by a repetitive drum machine pattern whilst the lyrical structure is in place with some parts complete. Something Of A Pleasure is one of the highlights of Pudding, the music soars and uplifts in what would be the choruses and takes the vocals with it. Walk Tall has a relaxed melancholic feel to it, the phonetic lyrics once again wrapping around the melody of the song to create something quite beautiful.

The interestingly titled 50s Out Takes completes Pudding - names often coming from the vibe of the original jam. Lyrics reference Jesus and saving yourself but, like much of the album, only make sense in the context of their creation. 

James have often talked up their songwriting process, the chaotic way in which jams are distilled over time into songs and Pudding gives us an insider view of that for the first time in three decades. Best listened to without any preconceptions and expectations, it's like discovering a secret diary and scrap book of ideas. Without the death of proper release singles and accompanying b-sides many of these songs would have evolved into those and some may have displaced tracks from Yummy, but in 2024 Pudding tantalises and teases what these songs might have become whilst standing in their own right as a fascinating peep behind the curtains.

A signed version of the deluxe version of the album featuring both Yummy and Pudding can be ordered from Amazon.

James tour at Barcelona Sala Razzmatazz (May 15), Madrid La Riviera (16), Valencia Deleste Festival (18), Bournemouth O2 Academy (29), Aberdeen P&J Arena (June 3), Newcastle Utilita Arena (5), Glasgow OVO Hydro (7), Leeds First Direct Arena (8), Cardiff Utilita Arena (11), Birmingham Utilita Arena (12), Manchester CO-OP Live (14), London O2 Arena (15), Lisbon Rock In Rio (22), Bedford Summer Sessions (July 6), Lytham Festival (7), Stornoway Hebcelt Festival (19), Ludlow Castle (25), Scarborough Open Air Theatre (26) and Powderham Castle Gone Wild Festival (August 24)

James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.  Some of the band - TimAndy and Dave - are also on Twitter.

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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