Former indie rock drummer stays close to roots with first solo offering.
Matt James first made his name in the mid nineties as the drummer with the indie rock band Gene, where, championed by the likes of NME and Melody Maker, their albums, ‘Olympian’, and ‘Drawn To The Deep End’, achieved top ten status. Their sound was strongly influenced by the burgeoning indie scene of the eighties, in particular, The Smiths, who they were constantly compared with throughout their four album career. On the demise of the band in 2004, James left the music business and reinvented himself as a successful wine merchant until the onset of lockdown found him with time on his hands and an urge to write. Roping in old band mates Steve Mason on guitar and Kev Miles on bass, along with founder member of the Style Council, Mick Talbot on keyboards, James set about recording his first solo album, ‘Breaking The Fall’, enlisting producer, Stephen Street, who’s previous work includes, ‘Blur’, as well as, ‘The Smiths’, to bring everything together.
The album opens with, ‘From Now On’, a simple acoustic guitar intro supported by a gentle accordion accompaniment and just the right amount of pedal steel as James sings about reconnecting with his past. James has a strong, if not distinctive voice, well suited to the familiar musical landscape that his former band inhabited, but now with a very current flavour. Mental health and addiction issues are the subject matter for the following number, and the album’s stand out track, ‘Champione’. Here James reaches a lyrical and emotional zenith as he recounts the struggles of his late father, opening up in a way that is absent from the rest of the album, while an array of acoustic and electric guitars help to create an atmospheric sound-wall perfectly capturing the sensitive mood. As the album continues, first with the title track, ‘Breaking The Fall’, and then, ‘Born To Rule’, complete with horn section, it begins to reveal its true identity and objective. Gone is the stripped back arrangement of the opening number, the accordion and pedal steel no more than an afterthought, to be replaced by a full band replete with female backing singers and all the whistle and bells the glossy production can provide. ‘Snowy Peaks’, and ‘Fireships’, observe the love angle, while, ‘A Simple Message’, tackles the current political climate, with the focus clearly on catchy melodies rather than lyrical sagacity. Further into the album the track, ‘Different World’, shows James’s love of the eighties new romantic period, slightly reminiscent of, ‘Spandau Ballet’.
‘Breaking The Fall’, is a confident and enjoyable debut solo album that sits comfortably with the late nineties indie sound, which at its best conjures comparisons to such acts as The Manic Street Preachers without the rebellious energy, and The Stereophonics but without the anthemic rock ‘n’ roll. There is also a strong resemblance to Paul Weller, not surprisingly considering the presence of Talbot, but here without Weller’s lyrical perception. However, in the context of what the album sets out to achieve, it has to all intent and purpose succeeded, smoothing the rough edges of the genres trail blazers and finding the commercial sweet spot and thus creating a radio friendly album full of pop sensibilities which with the right opportunity could easily scale the charts to the heights of his previous band. Is it Americana? Well the genre is undoubtedly a broad church of which this album probably sits somewhere towards the perimeter.