NME, 9.88 - 9/10
The first thing to say is that this is not the LP that James are capable of. By today's standards certainly it's excellent, but it's no match for The Pop Group's debut or Prayers On Fire by The Birthday Party or Hex Enduction Hour by The Fall. This is asking a lot from them, but after seeing live performances that match any of those bands, I feel we have a right to. They seem content to glow rather than really burn.
The eccentricity of James sound admittedly is hard to imprison on vinyl, depending so much on improvisation - taking that moment of tension and stretching it to breaking point, then making patterns from the fragments as it shatters. Here the technique used by Hugh Jones is to round off the edges, regularise the rhythms, make them fit. They are being forced to be concise, when what they do best is ramble.
To some bands this process would be tantamount to making the coffin for them to lie in. James survive because, whatever attempts are made to standardise them, they remain a pretty odd bunch altogether. Where their erstwhile patron Morrissey, still the closest contemporary reference, paints readily recognisible pictures, using the very English technique of social realism, Tim Booth's songs call up strangely abstracted visions based on the senses, snatches of memories, childhood fears counterpointed by moments of stark wonder.
At its best their music is equally diverse, instinctual rather than immediately recognisible - here attempts seem to be made to tether them to a more familiar base when they should be allowed to fly free.
Dear James, you are the most fascinating thing in modern pop music. But surely you can't be content with such lowly stature?
Q Magazine 9.88 by Mat Snow 4*
Their talents trumpeted by Morrissey in 1984-5, fellow Mancunians James failed to capitalise on this credit when their debut album Stutter proved musically too oblique and contrary to gladden none but the most wonkily tuned ear. Though very late in the day in terms of cultish buzz, Strip-mine rectifies that.
James have come up with 11 tightly worked but airily evocative songs which should intrigue any connoisseur of a particularly English way of doing things, be ye a fan of Richard Thompson or the Soft Boys, Billy Bragg or The Smiths. Tim Booth clutches a pussycat on the back cover, and has long enjoyed an intensely gentle reputation. But what distinguishes him from the legions of the woolly and ineffectual is his theory that rock can be brisk and dramatic without being tainted by a trouser-snake fixation or any other form of butch Americanism. And guitarist Larry Gott, bassist Jim Glennie and drummer Gavan Whelan show how it's done in practice.
Though clearly rustic in mood, their tunes are incisively played-tangy, almost high-life guitars beautifully playing off crisply driven rhythms. And, his head audibly in the clouds, Tim Booth sings allusive words of regret-regretting our brutalisation of the envionment and also our interior, emotional life. A thwarted Utopian, perhaps, which is what gives such fine songs as Vulture, Medieval and What For their urgent quest for rhapsodic fulfilment.