Classic Song #39: James – Sometimes

Why this and not Sit Down, Laid, She’s a Star or Come Home as the choice of a ‘classic’ James song, you may ask.

Strangely, I hadn’t seen James in concert prior to last May and this is the song that stuck in my mind more than any other on the evening. I won’t say too much about the content. I know there are gazillions of James fans out there who will metaphorically throttle me if I make a mistake (which is one of the reasons I declined to review that show), some of them probably right here in my street who might attempt it literally.

Except to propose that it contains possibly the best chat up line in existence.

Sometimes (technically ‘Sometimes [Lester Piggott]’) is from the band’s fifth and Brain Eno produced album Laid (1993) and you can detect some of Eno’s influence in it. The chord sequence around the chorus is immaculate and the massed guitar bridge breathtaking. The driving beat (representing the ‘Lester Piggott’ bit I guess as his horse thunders towards the finishing tape) draws you in and the all-male harmonies are of the quality I’d associate with the all-female Three Degrees and First Aid Kit.

Tim Booth looks like he is living every second of this live performance, especially at the end, and have we (the UK) ever produced another rock dancer as good?

I’m working on a theory that I started to develop this weekend, that most songs fall into one of four categories; as a fan of acronymic alliteration let’s call them the four Ps – Practical (what the writer has seen in his/her daily life, in another medium it would be called observational comedy); Personal; Philosophical; and Political. You might argue there are others (even a fifth P – Pornographic – When I’m Cleaning Windows and Je T’aime Moi Non Plus being early examples and I suppose you could throw Laid into the pot) and there are outright humorous songs. But overall I reckon those four Ps cover most of them.

Where political songs go I’ve had my fill of them. Politics is so damned intrusive that I don’t want to hear any more of it when I relax with some music in my headphones, whether it is from the left end of the political spectrum, your Dylans, Billy Braggs and Sleaford Mods or the right – Rush, Eagles of Death Metal, even Bowie and Kate Bush.

That is why I am not looking forward to new albums this year by artists and bands that I have revered in the past, such as St Vincent and Arcade Fire. In the case of the former she has made it pretty clear that it will be a non-stop rant against Trump and in the latter, with form already (Neon Bible), I can feel in my water that it is going to be much of the same, from a band that has transformed itself from a super creative, imaginative and genuine ‘indie’ band into a collection of very rich, bobble headed politicos masquerading as pseudo musicians for the people.

But I digress.

One of the things that attract me to James is that by and large they avoid politics and restrict themselves to two of the Ps – Philosophical and Personal – even though Tim Booth has strong views on subjects like religion for example that could lead him elsewhere. Sit Down is a perfect example of the philosophical song.

As for the ‘personal’ well there is something about the way Booth performs this song (I chose deliberately a live version) that surely can’t fail to move you. Despite the obscure imagery of the lyrical verses (monsoons, concrete, fishing boats, lightning and suicide by TV aerial) the chorus dominates the song.  It is almost as if he is talking directly to someone right there on stage, especially at the end. The object of his desires? Possibly a forbidden one? God? Who knows?

I might even add ‘who cares?’ On one level it is just a stonking good rhythm and tune, pure and simple, and with a level of performance here that is close to matchless.

The perfect soft rock song? Perhaps.

I’m going to end this by throwing down a challenge (and I don’t care how many replies this gets, though the blog management might!) Who and where is the James of the 2010s (allowing for the fact that they are still very much around)? Name me any other band that can get tens of thousands of people dancing, whether or not they are in the seats (and sometimes weeping tears of happiness at the same time as I witnessed at the Arena) like they do?

©D J Bentley, 2017