James are one of those bands that I return to every now and again. It’s not as if I am a massive fan, but they have slowly crept into my album collection over the years and The Best of James ably demonstrates what a great band they were when it came to the pop song.
Released just as the shine was going off the 90s indie-rock apple, this compilation neatly reminded those with short memories that James had been around long before the halcyon days of Britpop, and the new tracks reassured the listener that here a few good years in them yet.
A surprise chart-topper at the time, The Best of James did a good job of highlighting the band’s most accessible material, while still hinting at the fact that there was a lot more to them than the clutch of top ten hits they were best known for. There’s a genuine durability in much of the band’s 90s material that many of their contemporaries struggled to achieve, and as such, this is a compilation that still stands up today.
While it is the big hits like “She’s a Star” and (of course) “Sit Down” which no doubt most will identify with James, for me it is their material from albums such as Seven and Laid which still beguiles to this day, and makes up the backbone of this non-chronological compilation, sure that’s not where their biggest hits came from (only “Sound” from Seven scratched the top ten), but if you’re looking to investigate James further than this compilation, then that’s the direction to head.
The Best of James works as an immensely effective gateway compilation to their wider career up to that point, and as such, is probably the best starting place for the curious. Following this, they would release the much ballyhooed Millionaires album, before losing their way a bit, splitting, reforming, then enjoying a well earned career renaissance over the last decade. If you want to understand why they gained such a passionate fanbase, then look no further than the songs that make up this smartly sequenced compilation.