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As one of the first groups to be dubbed "the next Smiths," James became an institution on the British alternative music scene of the '80s and '90s with their pleasant folk-pop. Early in their career, James were blessed by praise from 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, the group, like many of their British peers, became involved in the acid house-inspired "baggy" scene and recorded the baggy-inspired "Sit Down," which became their breakthrough hit. Shortly after "Sit Down," James became more experimental, culminating in a collaboration with Brian Eno that resulted in their biggest American album, Laid, in 1993. James took four years to follow Laid, by which time their audience had returned to a cult following.

James formed in Manchester in 1982, when Paul Gilbertson (guitar), Jim Glennie (bass), and Gavan Whelan (drums) met Tim Booth (vocals) at Manchester University and asked him to join their fledgling band. During the next year, the band became regulars on the local club circuit, and by 1983, they had signed to Factory, releasing their debut EP, Jimone, later that year. Two years later, their second EP, James II, was released, and Morrissey, the lead singer of the Smiths, publicly endorsed the group, asking them to open for his group. By the summer of 1985, Larry Gott had replaced Gilbertson, and the group signed to Sire Records. Working with producer Lenny Kaye, the group recorded its debut, Stutter, that year, releasing it in early 1986 to generally positive reviews.

Over the next two years, James toured constantly, building up a solid fan base. They released their second album, the folky Strip-Mine, in 1988. The record failed to capitalize on their live following, and the band departed Sire the following year, signing with the independent Rough Trade. On their new label, James released the moderately successful "Sit Down" and the live album One Man Clapping, which climbed to number one on the indie charts. In 1990, Whelan was replaced by David Baynton-Power, and James expanded to a septet with the addition of keyboardist Mark Hunter, violinist Saul Davies, and trumpeter Andy Diagram. The new lineup signed to Fontana Records and released Gold Mother in the fall. Following a handful of minor hit singles, Gold Mother finally became a breakthrough success in the spring of 1991, when a re-recorded version of "Sit Down" -- now boasting a contemporary baggy beat -- climbed to number two on the U.K. charts and became a staple on U.S. modern rock radio. Although the success of "Sit Down" was a blessing, it also was a curse, as the single became all James were known for. The band began to rebel in concert, playing almost nothing but new material, and their next album, 1992's Seven, was perceived as a misguided stab at big arena rock.

For the follow-up to Seven, James stripped away Diagram and worked with producer Brian Eno. The resulting record, Laid, was a quieter, more ambitious album, and it received some of the band's best reviews. While the album was ignored in the U.K., it was an alternative rock hit in the U.S. on the strength of the title track, which became a crossover hit. During the Laid sessions, James recorded another album's worth of experimental music with Eno that was released in the fall of 1994 as Wah Wah. The album received mixed reviews and the group took an extended break throughout 1995, partly due to guitarist Gott's departure. In 1996, Tim Booth recorded a collaboration with composer Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) entitled Booth and the Bad Angel, which received generally positive reviews. With guitarist Adrian Oxaal in tow, James returned in early 1997 with Whiplash, a more straightforward record that was greeted with mixed reviews. 1999's Millionaires, recorded with new guitarist Michael Kulas, was initially released only in the U.K. Their spectacular follow up, 2001's Pleased to Meet You, was also available only in the U.K. A few months later, frontman Tim Booth announced his departure from the band he founded nearly 20 years before, citing that it was the right time to go. A winter tour of the U.K. was slated for December 2001, marking Booth's last with the band. The remaining members insisted they'd carry on; however, James officially called it quits at the tour's end. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
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