Quintessential Album Series :: Laid (1993) :: James
Laid is the fifth studio album by James, alternative rock band from Manchester, England. It was released on October 5, 1993, and it was the first of several collaborations between the group and Brian Eno, who produced all but one of the album’s tracks, One of the Three. Eno was said to not like the song, so the band recorded it when he took a day off. The sessions from that “day off” also resulted in a later album, Wah Wah.
In 1993 James were invited on an acoustic tour of the US supporting Neil Young at a series of natural outdoor venues in the autumn. They returned to England refreshed and ready to record their new album with Brian Eno, whom they had originally approached to produce Stutter but who had been unavailable at the time. Eno set about bringing out the ambience in James’ music, and took them through a recording process that the band later described as a “journey of self-discovery“. Laid was one of the two albums that came from the partnership of the band and Eno.
The title song, Laid, quickly gained popularity on American college radio and remains the band’s best known song in the United States. Because of the risqué lyrics, the music video of the song replaced the infamous line of “but she only comes when she’s on top”, to “she only sings when she’s on top”, although lead singer Tim Booth clearly lip-syncs the original line, and is accompanied by a subtitle that reads “hums”.
The song did chart on the Billboard Hot 100, its initial peak was # 61. It made it on to the chart thanks to its cult status as a popular college track, which is what helped it peak at # 3 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. The song was much more successful in the band’s native United Kingdom, where it peaked at # 25, becoming another Top 40 hit for the band.
There are certain albums that have left memory marks on my skin and my soul that at times are a joy to listen to, and at times leave me in a state of despair. This album is full of emotionally rich, trigger-loaded songs that are part of the complexly woven stories of my early twenties, in the early nineties; a time that was rife with the falling apart and coming back together of love, and of self. This album came about during a passionate chance meeting that turned into a tumultuous decade long love affair, which had a rather tragic end some time after the actual love had ceased to exist.
The ending is not the memories this album elicits, no, it is a collection of songs from the beginning, perhaps that is part and parcel to why the memories recalled are both beautiful and painful, as is often the look back at the “once upon a time” of a doomed love story. Every story has a start, and this is part of the soundtrack from the start of one of my stories, and also an album that will always be a favorite of mine, and why, to me, Laid is a quintessential album.
“Now your head is used and sore,
and the forecast is for more,
like falling rain.”
We were both so bruised and broken, coming from a family tree with rotting fruit, and falling to pieces branches. We were always trying to heal each other, pasting bandages and kisses, and promises for a better life – but we were so damaged that it often seemed a too far away dream.
There were times though, beautiful times, where we saw what happiness was, felt it completely, saw hope in each other’s eyes. We brought life into the world, and for awhile we made each other believe in love. I don’t think I’ll ever believe in that same way again, I don’t know that I ever can.
2. Out to Get You
“So alone tonight,
miss you more than I will let you know.
Miss the outline of your back,
miss you breathing down my neck.”
This song, the opening track, is the most painful of the bunch, the song most loaded with recollections, so vivid that all my senses are alight, drunk on remembering. This song is part of my muscle memory, I feel it in my veins, and in the exhale and inhale of my lungs. Hearing this I can feel his arms around me, his one leg swung over my body, the window open, the scent of salty ocean air wafting over us as we started to wake.
He would paste this song into our history, saying it was me, and him, and us, all wrapped up in a song. He would play it loudly on a Pawn Shop bought boombox, holding the phone up to it, letting it sing through the miles between us. The lyrics above, they became our version of “I miss you”, and hearing it now makes my chest seize up, the pain of loss still there in my body, the feelings still reachable, palpable, and real. I miss when this song made me feel loved, and not just sad.
3. Say Something
“More than a drug is what I need;
need a change of scenery,
need a new life.“
He stood at the end of the dock gazing out to sea, avoiding a conversation, delaying our goodbyes. I watched from the back door, the bed sheet wrapped twice around me, willing himu to turn around and come back to bed, come back to me. Neither of us spoke, silence so loud it was deafening, so intense it brought on a new batch of rain.
I knew that he wanted me to stay, to become entwined in his life, to make what was happening between us permanent. Truth is, I wanted to. I wanted a change of scenery, a new life, a do over, but I was terrified. This was before I knew that I could pick-up and go, move somewhere new, start a new chapter in a new city and be okay. It was later, with him, that I would realize I was brave and bold. This was still the era of so much of my screaming silence.
“This bed is on fire with passionate love,
the neighbors complain about the noises above;
but she only comes when she’s on top.”
I can hear his voice singing this one to me, in the shower, in the car, while we both jumped up and down on the bed, and while we ran across the sand near enough to feel the tide kiss our bare feet. He would always sing “oh, you think your so pretty” and we both would laugh. Some nights he would add to it, kissing me softly, whispering “I do think you are so pretty.”
Back then, I thought he was so pretty, too. Soft dirty blonde curls, soulful brown eyes, skin kissed with sun and salt from the sea. He smelled of sunscreen and Camel lights and something so uniquely him that I could not describe it in words. He said I smelled of vanilla, like sweetness, and cookies, and good dreams. We were ridiculously head over heels in love back then, the way it seems only youth will allow for.
“On a flat roof,
there’s a boy leaning against the wall of rain,
aerial held high,
‘come on thunder, come on thunder'”
The sudden Summer rains came and went, leaving a sticky-sweet feel to the air that left my skin constantly wet (not that I was not feeling that way, with him then, anyway, all the time). It was a week of escape, of no consequences, a delayed reality of he and I. We sat out on the balcony and watched the weather dance in manic patterns, painting the sky in varying shades of color and light.
We never could recapture those days by the sea, in the Keys, in the “so far away from home” home. Motel rooms and warm waves, sudden storms and waitresses that knew me by name after two days. His kisses were always all-encompassing, ever sweeping me up and off my feet, and after he would set me back down and stare into my eyes I’d feel soul-flushed, cracked open and more vulnerable than I ever knew was possible to be. That Summer, that week, I was completely his.