Singer Tim Booth wants to make it clear that his band James’ latest album, Living in Extraordinary Times, is not an album about Donald Trump.
Well, not entirely.
The opening track Hank makes no attempt to pretend it’s anything other than a full-on musical assault on the Trump administration.
To the beat of a room-shaking, militaristic drum section, Booth sings about “white fascists in the White House”, adding lines about the Black Lives Matter protests (“bend your knee and stand your ground”) and the rather stark declaration “this president’s a dangerous tool”.
The US president’s shadow does loom over the band’s 15th studio album, recorded under the guidance of Alt-J’s Mercury Prize-winning producer Charlie Andrew.
But Booth says: “I limited the number of songs I wrote about Trump, but there are a few that are still probably influenced by him. We are in extraordinary times.
“Because I do see a lot of positives. He’s a catalytic figure who’s waking up a lot of people with Black Lives Matter gaining more impetus and the Florida high school kids standing up to the NRA, and women are definitely going: ‘We’re not having this any more.'”
As someone who has joint UK-US nationality and has lived in California for the past decade, Booth has strong opinions on the US president.
The other political song is Heads, which includes the lyrics “It’s just a fever of greed/Don’t believe in the White American Dream/God bless inequality/The poor vote the rich to hammer nails in their feet”.
The Bradford-born singer, who left the UK for his adopted homeland around the time Barack Obama began his presidency, insists the song is applicable to political and power imbalance anywhere in the world.
“The minute you get with wealthy powerful men, democracy goes out the window. Money buys you whatever you want in America,” he says.
“We complained about the MPs’ expenses, which were minimal really. But over there nearly every politician is receiving millions from wealthy individuals and corporations to help them get elected.”
Booth insists that – despite the lyrics “Fake news divides to conceal/History’s rich get to keep whatever they steal – Heads is actually positive in its outlook.
“The second half of that songs is ‘Here’s the dream, ivory tapestry, dovetailing empathy’. I also go on about Mycelium – mushrooms create this underground network that links vegetation.
“If a tree is lacking in minerals, through this underground root system, one tree will give the minerals to the other tree that is dying. It’s a sharing system.
“So within that song that starts out quite aggressively addressing the status quo, it says ‘Here’s the dream, this is what we want where there’s enough for everyone’.
“It’s a very positive statement, so James are always, I think in the end, a hopeful band.”
The new album also touches on the profoundly personal with the track Coming Home (Pt 2), which Tim says is an absent father’s apology to his children and is a sequel of sorts to Come Home from James’ seminal 1990 album Gold Mother.
“Come Home was written about leaving the mother of my first child. I went on tour a lot, she was our manager and she would send me on tour for months at a time.
“I felt so bad about being away from my son in particular and I felt a lot of guilt and shame.
“Part Two is about being with my wife and my son, but I still have to go away a lot and it causes me more anguish than it does my son, who is a typical teenager. It’s more about my grief but also it’s universal – there are so many migrant workers that have to work.
“I know a nanny who hasn’t seen her kids in 10 years because she fled El Salvador. Her kids are there and she makes money and sends it home every week.
“I have it easy compared to that kind of story, which goes on all over the world.”
The album follows on from 2015’s Girl at the End of the World, which almost gave James their first number one. (In the end it was kept off the top spot by Adele’s 25.)
Living in Extraordinary Times also comes almost three decades on from Gold Mother, which celebrates its 30th birthday in 2020.
‘Too much nostalgia’
Yet Tim says the band have no plans to take the record out on a cash-grabbing anniversary tour.
“I talked to Sparks recently and they did a thing in London where they did one album every night and they have about 26 albums,” he says incredulously.
“I don’t know how you’d remember the songs. I’d have to have a teleprompter.
“We change our set-list every night, usually about an hour before we get on stage, but I don’t like the idea of being tied down to a record.
“I did have an idea of [doing] Gold Mother and Seven together, [or] maybe Laid plus Whiplash. Pairing albums could be interesting, but I wouldn’t want to do it for financial reasons.”
Booth – who will turn 60 in the same year Gold Mother turns 30 – agrees there is too much of a musical nostalgia market at the moment.
“We aren’t about nostalgia; we’re not a heritage band. We play a lot of new songs when we play live and the stuff we’re writing now is as good as anything we’ve ever written – if not better.”
Living in Extraordinary Times is out now.
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