They seem very far back now, those heady days when James seemed to rule the indie world. Sit Down and Come Home used to blare from every speaker, Morrissey (now Tim Booth‘s label mate, ironically enough) was one of the band’s champions, and every other person aged between 14 and 25 seemed to own the ubiquitous band t-shirt.
After producing a steady stream of hit singles and one of the finest albums in recent memory with Laid, James amicably split three years ago. Booth has been quiet since then, and Bone is his debut solo album (if you discount his Booth And The Bad Angel collaboration with Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalementi).
At first listen, Bone is James without the attention grabbing tunes. There’s nothing here with the immediacy of Laid, Come Home or Born Of Frustration. However, after several plays it’s revealed as a beautifully subtle record whose nuances will reward the more patient of listeners.
Hardcore James fans will recognise some of the rhythms (especially on the tribal drums of Monkey God) from Wah Wah, the band’s experimental collaboration with Brian Eno but there are some more commercial moments here too. Down By The Sea is a former single and displays Booth’s soaring voice to great effect. Opening track Wave Hello is also a contender for a future single release, with a truly great guitar riff.
Where Booth really excels though is on the ballads on this album. Discover is nothing short of stunning, an intense, dramatic ballad that is easily the best track here. It starts quietly and then adds some orchestration as the track progresses. The lyrics become a bit melodramatic (“So I’ve been abuser and I’ve been abused, I’ve been the Nazi and I’ve been the Jew” for instance) but the musical arrangement of the song is heart stoppingly beautiful.
Also successful is Fall In Love, a reworking of a track from Booth And The Bad Angel. The whispery vocals give this a lullaby effect, and it deserves a second hearing for those who missed it first time around. It’s followed by Falling Down, a soaring orchestral pop song with Booth’s voice on top form. The fact that these three songs are placed together means that it’s the most successful part of the album.
The only downside to Bone is the lyrics. Redneck has a chorus of “I’m just ice cream, it’s all rama rama, I’m just space dust”, while Monkey God attempts to explain evolution with “God in man, man from ape, everything’s connected, we co-create our own fate”. Booth has always leaned towards the hippy-dippy but he goes on overkill here. Only Eh Mamma shows a sense of humour with some rather rude lines (“I’ve an issue with the spit or swallow and just don’t get it in my hair”).
Yet overall, Bone is a welcome return for one of the more talented members of the early ’90s indie scene. He’ll probably never hit the commercial heights of Sit Down again but if you were one of the many t-shirt owners back in 1991 there’s a good chance you’ll find much to enjoy here.