As connoisseurs of pop culture, we gay men love our shiny new discoveries. If they share our sexual orientation or point of view, even better. As a film and music freak I’m as guilty of it as they next person. Yet I’d like to take a moment to laud a working band that’s been active since 1982, released their debut, Stutter, in 1986, and doesn’t include (as far as I know) any gay members.
James — the English band fronted by Tim Booth — had some success in the U.S. with their 1993 release Laid (and its frisky title track) and a big international hit during the raving days of Madchester with “Sit Down.” They split up in the mid-2000s, then reunited (as these things go), and have been issuing solid records since 2008.
Living in Extraordinary Times, their fifteenth release, is the best work they’ve released since Laid, and — as much as it pains me to do so — I really have to thank Donald J. Trump for turning the band into indie rock protest singers.
“I was writing at the same time that Trump was coming to power and I write from the unconscious,” Booth has said. “I don’t purposely set out to write a song about anything. I see what comes out of my unconscious and Trump was all over the record … in bits of songs and it was like ‘Ugh, no!’ I don’t want this narcissist to steal our record, you know, and for the record to just be about this idiot. So I tried to focus it down and then with ‘Hank‘ it was like ‘Ok, get it all into one song.’”
“Hank” is the opening track of Living in Extraordinary Times, and if you weren’t sure how pissed the band has been watching the balance of power shift in the U.S. (not to mention the ongoing drama over Brexit), then just peruse these lyrical snippets: “this crackhead’s tiny fingers”, “white fascists in the White House”, “why put your faith in facts when you can lie?”.
And though it doesn’t get more pointed than that opening salvo, the shell shock of watching the current administration dismantle concepts all Americans (and more of the world) should hold dear bleeds into the remaining songs, most pointedly on the folksy “Many Faces.”
The song, Booth has said, “was written in response to him saying ‘We’re building a wall’ and all these racist remarks about Mexicans. But ‘Many Faces’ is much more of a humanist song, in reaction to his racism.” James turns the ugliness of Trump’s sentiments into a positive singalong: “There’s only one human race, many faces, everybody belongs here.”
While the world is falling apart around him, Booth and the band take stock of what’s important: love in the indie pop stomp of “Leviathan,” family — specifically fatherhood — in the sad tale of “Coming Home (Pt. 2)”, the need to continue to appeal to our higher natures in “Better Than That”. And while doing so, they’ve come up with a mid-career stunner that reminds us we are all in this mess together.
Take that, all you young, shiny whippersnappers.