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Risky business
James singer Tim Booth embarks on a solo career

Thereís a big blue-and-white sticker on the front of Tim Boothís new Bone (Koch) that proclaims in capital letters, "ExĖlead singer of James; the voice of the hit ĎLaid,í as featured in American Pie." Which is all true. For nearly two decades, Booth fronted that eclectic Mancunian band. And in the States, at least, he and his Jamesian colleagues have one claim to fame: that 1993 song with the lyrics about sex positions and the yodelish leap into falsetto on the chorus, later resurrected to help sell the above-mentioned teensploitation blockbuster.

But truth isnít necessarily synonymous with comfort. If you know anything about Jamesís long history, youíll remember that, following some unpleasant experiences with the British music press in the mid í80s that culminated in their being christened the "poor manís Smiths," Booth and his mates became increasingly reluctant to play the music-biz game of interviews, photo shoots, and general gladhanding. So youíd figure that promoting a new solo record on the back of a song thatís more than 10 years old ó being conscious all the while that itís his sole US hit ó might rankle Booth a little. Yet speaking over the phone from his home in Brighton (the English one), he doesnít seem all that aggravated. "Iím proud of my history, and itís only logical that it gets mentioned. I do have to let people know that my albumís out there somehow."

One thing that may make it easier for Booth to negotiate the promotional circus this time around is the serendipitous nature of the album heís promoting. According to him, nothing about Bone was planned; he hadnít even wanted to pursue a solo career. When he left James in 2001, it was because "I felt our last record [Pleased To Meet You] was the best weíd done, and I couldnít see us bettering it. I wanted us to go out on a high, instead of waiting till we were sliding down the blackboard of success with our nails firmly dug in and making a howling sound."

Boothís next move was into acting and scriptwriting. Heís made things happen in both departments, with two finished screenplays now circulating through various corridors of power, an award-winning stage turn in playwright Edward Bondís Manchester production of Bondís Saved, and an appearance (as a serial killer) in the next Batman movie. But music hadnít completely lost its pull. "I never got tired of writing songs. Itís a natural thing to me, and itís cheaper than therapy."

A few chance meetings with local musicians, the most important being producer and multi-instrumentalist Lee "Muddy" Baker, resulted in a bumper crop of new tunes. Booth says he told himself at first that he was writing them for someone else to perform. "My original plan was to find some young, cute, talented musicians to do these songs. Iíd be in the background and wouldnít even let on that Iíd written them. That way Iíd get out of having to do interviews." He laughs. "But I fell in love with the songs too much to let go of them."

Itís hard to argue that Booth doesnít own the songs now; every track on Bone is graced with a characteristically stirring vocal performance. As was the case in James, the backdrop for those vocals is diverse, ranging from the Lou Reed/Iggy Pop garage rock of "Eh Mamma" to the slithery í80s-style dance pop of "Wave Hello" (vaguely reminiscent of another James semi-hit, 1991ís "Sit Down"). If thereís a weak link here, itís the same one critics have always carped about: Boothís musings on identity and sexuality can seem overblown. The music of the dramatic early-Bowie-esque ballad "Discover" is great, but Boothís intoning "Iíve been the Nazi and Iíve been the Jew" is nothing short of an "Aw, come on now!" moment.

The standout track on Bone, "Fall in Love," prompts no such reservations. This fetching love song first appeared, in more ornate garb, on Boothís 1996 collaboration with composer Angelo Badalamenti, Booth and the Bad Angel. "When Lee heard the original recording, he thought me and Angelo had fucked it up, which we kind of had." Re-recorded in stripped-down form, it sounds classic, like something Elvis or the Everlys could have done in their prime.

Booth plans to bring his new songs and his new band to the States for some shows in the spring. And they should be well worth catching live ó assuming the frontman doesnít injure himself. "I just came off the European tour and went on my back for about four weeks," he reports. "I ruptured some discs in my neck dancing a little too energetically. The last time I toured America, I damaged my back. Itís a risky business."

Issue Date: February 4 - 10, 2005
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