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B-Sides Ultra

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Album Review

The run of James' albums and accompanying singles meant a fair few B-sides surfaced over the years — especially as the era of two-CD singles took hold in the U.K. — and Ultra cherry picks them for a reasonable if uneven look at the band's less well-known moments. Aside from two covers — a starts-okay-then-gets-utterly-horrible version of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" and a sturdy enough radio session take on Iggy Pop's "China Girl" — it's all originals, arranged in no particular order, from 1990 to 1999. Given that Wah Wah was more the portrait of the band at work in studio than anything else, the more finished efforts here straddle the line between doing whatever for the sake of it and trying to polish up something. A few songs are bemusing efforts by the band to stay in touch with the times (thus opening cut "Gone Too Far," which shows James jumping on the jungle bandwagon a couple of years too late), but sometimes the blend of styles actually becomes its own particular strength. Secret highlights do pop up — the jaunty swing and heavy flange of "Honest Pleasure," the minimal "Undertaker" (at least at the start) and "Still Alive," both of which very much forecast where the band would end up with Laid, and the rich, Neu!-tinged Krautrock chug of "Chunny Pops." One of the more surprising and entrancing efforts, "I Defeat," features Sinéad O'Connor on a country-influenced, downbeat note that's a rare gem. In the end this is obviously really only for the must-have-it-all James fan, or at least the one who wants all these songs in one place and lacks a CD burner, but as it stands it's still an enjoyable listen even for a more casual listener.


Formed: 1982 in Manchester, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

As one of the first groups to be dubbed "the next Smiths," James became an institution on the British alternative music scene during the '80s and '90s with their pleasant folk-pop. Early in their career, James were praised by their idol Morrissey, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. The group was pegged as second-rate Smiths, yet continued to tour and record, eventually gaining a sizable following. In the late '80s, James, like many of their British peers, became involved in the acid...
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