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An invitation to leave yourself behind
Seven - James
Member Name: paranormalhandy
Seven - James
Date: 29/04/09, updated on 29/04/09 (44 review reads)
Advantages: Good strong songs
Disadvantages: Overblown production
And so, the post-punk pioneers turned stadium rock souvenirs - or so the press at the time, and hindsight hipsters, would have it.
When it's available (it seems to get deleted more often than most James albums) "Seven" can be an interesting and rewarding purchase and listen. Okay, we have the problematic opener "Born of Frustration", and that bit of the lyric when Tim goes "lalala" does sound like "Don't You Forget About Me", but it is only for a second - well, maybe five - and if you stick your fingers in your ears you can ignore it. And besides, James had just had a number 2 hit by re-recording "Sit Down" to make it sound like "Waterfront" ... and they had bills to play. What do you expect? Also, "Born of Frustration" includes the startling lyric "who put brown owl eyes on the butterfly's wings?" which is worth all the subliminal Simple Minding in the world. And this is where this album truly shines: the words. Arguably, it suffers from overblown production (Youth's shouting-from-rooftops style is not sympathetic) and a turn-up-to-11 roar which just does not suit the light-and-shade of James' music. But the songs, oh the songs, are perfect.
Following "Born" we have another single, the crashing and hollering "Ring the Bells", a pure adrelaine rush (although, as subsequent slow acoustic versions show, it can stripped bare and loses none of its charm). Track 3 is "Sound", one of James' most experimental tracks, which always reminds me on early Jean Michel Jarre (this is a compliment!) with its ascending, exciting ambience; again, its lyrics of empowerment and redemption hit the spot perfectly, even deftly (and remarkably) avoiding being pretentious. "Bring a Gun" is possibly less successful, a half-sibling to James' older song "God Only Knows", which is driven along by an instrumental tidal wave that almost drowns out the vocals. "Mother" is the first moment to breathe the album gives us, a calm if slightly sinister viola-led medidation on the first Gulf War, then just recently over. Not many other bands, even ostensibly political ones, were touching the subject at the time. First side closer "Don't Wait that Long" is a duet between Tim Booth and Durga McBroom, ex-Pink Floyd vocalist who had recently worked with Youth as the voice of Blue Pearl ("Naked in the Rain"). A coda to "Mother" in style if not content, it is a longing desert storm of a song, and one of the strongest ever recorded by James.
Side two opens with strange backwards recording jiggery-pokery and the bouncy "Live a Love of Life", which sounds for all the world like Nine Inch Nails (as they were then) gone pop. Four years later, James would return to this techno-rock sound with the "Whiplash" album, but it would be nowhere near as successful as this single song. "Next Lover" is a chiming folk song, a seasick waltz, which brings together lyrics and music perfectly. It is also great to dance to. "Heavens", with its decending, tinkly piano is equally pretty, but in no way as memorable - arguably, it is one of the tracks on the album that lead to the hollow cries of "stadium rock". No such accusations could be made for "Protect Me", however; a beautiful aching love song, which (like "Ring the Bells") can be stripped bare of all its pomp and overproduction and still hold its own as a poem and melody. And then finally, the album closes with "Seven" itself, which has rather meandering lyrics but a tune and drive which are extraordinary infectious. I would also recommend seeking out the "Seven" EP (a 1992 CD single) which features an alternative remix of this song which brings out even more light and shade - and points the way to the folk rock of James' next album "Laid".
Like all of James' post-1990 albums, "Seven" was re-released in 2001 with extra tracks, which includes some interesting radio sessions reworkings. You may even find that this reissue version is cheaper to buy than the 11-track original!
Summary: A pre-Britpop curate's egg (but more egg than curate)