|Studio album by|
|Released||27 September 1993|
|Studio||The Windings, Real World|
|Genre||Folk, pop rock|
|Singles from Laid|
Laid is the fifth studio album by British rock band James. It was released on 27 September 1993, through Fontana Records. Following the departure of trumpeter Andy Diagram, the band toured the United States supporting Neil Young acoustically. After returning to the United Kingdom, they began writing for their next album. Enlisting Brian Eno, the band recorded over the course of six weeks at Real World Studios in Box, England, and The Windings in Wrexham, Wales. The sessions also resulted in the experimental sixth studio album Wah Wah (1994). The album featured a more stripped-down sound than their past releases, inspired by the stint with Young.
"Sometimes (Lester Piggott)" was released as the lead single from Laid on 30 August 1993. Around this, James toured across the US as part of the WOMAD festival. "Laid" was released as the album's second single on 1 November 1993, which was followed by a tour of the UK in December 1993. Following this, the band supported Duran Duran in the US, before embarking on their own tour in that territory. Laid has been re-pressed on vinyl three times, and was reissued on CD in 2001, and again in 2015, as a standalone release or as part of a box set with Wah Wah.
Laid received generally positive reviews from music critics, with many commenting on Eno's production. The album peaked at number three in the UK, while also charting in Australia and the US. It would later be certified gold in the UK and the US, as would "Laid" in the UK. "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)" and "Laid" both charted within the top 40 in the UK; the latter performed well on three Billboard component charts, with the most notable being number 67 on the Hot 100. Laid appeared on best-of album lists by the likes of Les Inrockuptibles, NME, and Select, while the song of the same name as appeared on best song of the decade lists by PopMatters and uDiscoverMusic.
Background and writing
James released their fourth studio album Seven in February 1992; it went on to sell a million copies worldwide. It peaked at number two in the UK, while three of its four singles – "Sound", "Born of Frustration", and "Ring the Bells" – reached the top 40 on the respective singles chart. One of these three, "Born of Frustration", was successful on the United States Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, where it reached number five. The band's only UK headlining show in 1992 saw them perform to a crowd of 30,000 at the Alton Towers leisure park.
Following this, trumpeter Andy Diagram left the band, leaving them as a six-piece, citing that he wanted to have other opportunities, and missed his girlfriend. James supported Neil Young on nine of his US west coast shows, where the band played acoustically. They continued touring the US, playing acoustically, instead of playing electric shows as they intended. Their record company was angered by this decision, and threatened to withdraw funding for the tour, until staff from the company saw the band at one performance. After returning home, they started writing material for their next album.
James had wanted to work with producer Brian Eno since their debut studio album Stutter (1986). Booth said he was "a bit busy and he’d call back in a couple of years." They sent Eno a letter and six hours worth of rehearsal tapes. Eno went on holiday and took the tapes with him; he listened to them after his wife expressed that she was a fan. Eno was interested in the band after hearing a rough version of "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)". By August 1992, Eno called the band, saying that he liked what he heard, and set out to work with them. In early 1993, Eno and engineer Benedict Fenner visited the band at their practice space in Beehive Mill in Manchester to witness their productivity over three-to-four days. Eno made recordings of the rehearsals to assess the quality of the songwriting. From February 1993, Laid was recorded initially for one week at drummer David Baynton-Power's studio The Windings in Wrexham, Wales, before the remaining five were spent at Real World Studios in Box, England. In comparison to Seven, which took several months, the six-week span was to provoke spontaneity, and also due to the limited amount of time Eno had available, which saw him appearing only four days a week.
Eno would come into the studio two hours earlier than everyone else in order to listen to the rehearsal tapes. Eno picked out potential ideas from the hours of tapes that he wanted expanded into fully-produced songs. Booth said some of the ideas lasted as little as 20 seconds, and highlighted that "Skindiving" and "Dream Thrum" grew from these ideas. Booth said "Dream Thrum" was one of three tracks, alongside "Laid" and "Five-O", that Eno felt the band "completely neglected". Fenner handling the majority of the recording; him and Eno were assisted by engineer Ben 'Jude' Findlay. "P.S." was recorded by Steve 'Doc' Williams, with assistance from Mike Jones, and additional recording by Fenner. One day when Eno was not in the studio, Gott took on his role, and the band recorded "One of the Three", a song that Eno did not like. During the sessions, Eno had a second studio set up so that the band could experiment during downtime. The results of this were later released as the album Wah Wah (1994). Gott said Eno had tapes recording continuously throughout the process, on the chance that they came up with an idea they liked. Bassist Jim Glennie said Eno often encouraged them to experiment, making them "realise that this imperfection was a good thing." Fenner mixed most of the recordings, except for "Everybody Knows" and "Low Low Low", both of which were done by Markus Dravs.
Composition and lyrics
Musically, the folk and pop rock sound of Laid recalled the band's earlier material, with more of a dreamy atmosphere and sparse arrangements. Booth said the tour supporting Young acoustically influenced the album: "You’re naked, you’re vulnerable, but it’s exhilarating. [...] It’s not an acoustic record, but it’s a stripped down sound." Eno contributed additional bass and keyboards to the recordings; him and Martine McDonagh, the band's manager and Booth's former partner, sung additional vocals on "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)", "Dream Thrum", and "Five-O".
"Out to Get You" was originally recorded as the B-side to "Lose Control" (1990), which the band forgot about until reviving it for the Young tour. When they were working on the song in the studio, the band attempted to add overdubs. Booth said this changed the feeling of the track, and as a result, they went back to the first take they had done. The song set the tone for the rest of album, with Glennie's playing octave parts, Gott's blues-lite guitar parts, and minimal percussion from Baynton-Power. It talks about being affected by paranoia to love a person, and dealing with human contact. "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)" is the most rock-centric track on the album, with its fast-paced acoustic strumming. The "Lester Piggott" part is taken from the jockey of the same name, which Booth said was done "because it has a racing beat." When it came time to record the song, Booth had shown Eno the lyrics, When he sang the words, Eno "went white and sat down", and afterwards exclaimed he "just experienced one of the highlights of my musical life." Booth struggled coming up with lyrics for "Dream Thrum" that he liked. He eventually settled on talking about the culture people are born into, and how that affects their personalities and life choices. It is the only song on album to see keyboardist Mark Hunter play another instrument, a melodica, besides his typical role.
"One of the Three" is inspired by three British hostages, namely John McCarthy, Brian Keenan and Terry Waite, and a scene from Waiting for Godot (1953), where three characters are on crosses. The band intentionally subdued the sound of the pop-leaning "Say Something", as they felt it would be distasteful to put too much emotion behind it. The song, written by Booth after having an argument with someone, discusses first love, and is indebted to the work of U2. The folk-esque "Five-O" talks about a long-term relationship, and deals with believing in the other person. "P.S." is a demo recording that the band felt they could not best; the full version of it ran for eight minutes, before being cutdown. The song discusses a failing relationship. "Everybody Knows" sees a person helping another with depression. Glennie said it was planned to appear on Wah Wah, but as the band wanted crossover between the releases, it was moved over to Laid. "Knuckle Too Far" evolved out of a jam session the band had with Bruce Mitchell of the Durutti Column. It was then known as "Bruce Jam"; Glennie said this version was "very sparse with nothing going on". They had forgotten about the song for nine months, until it was rediscovered by a member. As the band struggled to reinvent it in the studio, they thought about putting that version on the album. During one session, Booth and Gott were unable to hear each other through their respective monitors. They ran through the song again, where they ended up with a satisfactory version through what Gott described as "this curious kind of miscommunication."
Booth said "Low Low Low" was influenced by how there was one gene separating humans from apes: "I swing from seeing human beings as apes to seeing them as divine depending on what day you catch me." The song's chorus features the kitchen staff members at Real World singing in unison, dubbed the Kitchenettes. "Laid" it features slide guitar from Gott, the first time he had done it since "Really Heard" from Stutter. It acts as commentary on sexuality, being inspired by Booth witnessing several relationships that were happening around him. The band initially discarded the song for sounding too pop, until Eno pushed for the band to continue working on it. Booth's rushed vocals were the result of attempting to encapsulate "that feeling of an intense relationship out of control." The version that appeared on the album was an early demo that had been done at The Windings that the band were unable to improve upon. "Lullaby", which was originally called "Just Human", tackles child abuse that a friend of Booth suffered, and how it affected them. The album closes with "Skindiving", an ambient track that details a person diving deeper into a certain frame of mind.
Partway through the recording process, James played a one-off show in Bath, where they debuted many of the album's tracks. James supported Young again, at Finsbury Park in London on 8 July 1993, and then performed at the WOMAD festival on 28 August 1993; the band travelled with the festival across the US. "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)" was released as a single on 30 August 1993, with "America" and "Building a Charge" as extra tracks. The music video for "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)" was directed by Tim Pope. It expanded on the song's water theme, with the band miming to it in a water tank at Pinewood Studios. McDonagh starred in the video, standing in as an extra guitarist.
Laid was released in the UK on 27 September 1993, through Fontana Records. The artwork depicts the band members in dresses and eating bananas in front of the Marseille Cathedral in Marseille, France. They were on a three-day photoshoot when Booth proposed they put on dresses for a few shots. They were eating bananas as their manager went to get food for the starving members. Despite having cover art already finished, when they saw the shots from Marseille, they decided to use one of those. Glennie joked that listeners "could read into it as a subtext about prostituting ourselves by selling what we do."
Booth and Eno wanted the outtake "The Lake" on Laid, but were outvoted by the rest of the band. The song, as well as "America", were included on the Japanese edition of the album. "Laid" was released as a single on 1 November 1993, featuring "Wah Wah Kits", "The Lake", and "Seconds Away". The following week, a second version of the single was released, featuring live versions of "Laid", "Five-O", "Say Something", and "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)". The "Laid" music video was directed by Zanna, and sees Booth handcuffed in a laundromat with other band members entering and leaving. In December 1993, the band went on a tour of the UK, which was their first stint in the country in two years. In January 1994, the band supported Duran Duran on a tour of the US, before embarking on their own headlining tour in February and March 1994.
"Sometimes (Lester Piggott)", "Say Something", and "Laid" were included on the band's first and fourth compilation albums The Best Of (1998) and Fresh as a Daisy – The Singles (2007). "Out to Get You", "Five-O", and "Laid" were included on the band's third compilation album The Collection (2004). The music videos for "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)", "Say Something" (two versions), and "Laid" were included on the career-spanning box set The Gathering Sound (2012). Laid was reissued on CD in 2001, with the addition of live versions of "Laid", "Sometimes", and "Five-O", and a remix of "Say Something". Laid was re-pressed on vinyl in 1999, 2015 and 2020. It was released a deluxe box set with Wah Wah in 2015, which included a variety of alternative takes, demos and radio sessions. Laid received its own standalone reissue, with a disc of highlights from the box set.
|The Essential Rock Discography||7/10|
|The San Diego Union-Tribune|||
Laid was met with generally favourable reviews from music critics. AllMusic reviewer Ned Raggett wrote that the quieter sound of the album "turned out not merely to be a nice way to undercut expectations, but a creative benchmark for the group, arguably its artistic peak." Q writer Paul Davies saw it as "striking, provocative and sharply melodic as its predecessor", aided by the "lean, stripped down sound" Eno provided. Select's Andrew Harrison said the album's "real joy" is its "supernatural musical landscape", adding that the band that were "hated when they knocked their corners off for the arenas, is nowhere to be heard." Ian Gittins of Melody Maker found the album to feature "reflective, introspective musings with a heartening assurance, and mixes yearning and intelligence with a naked honesty which at times is genuinely stunning." He considered it a "remarkable rebirth", with the band having "regained all the artistic ground they lost" with their previous album, while also managing to make "their strongest work" since their third studio album Gold Mother (1990).
Entertainment Weekly writer Josef Woodard said that the "[q]uirky numbers blend with dream interludes and droll carnality in this juicy alternative to the Alternative Parade." BBC Music reviewer Ian Wade wrote that the album was full of "solid songwriting, showcasing James at their finest, relaxing into their own skins." The Washington Post's Mark Jenkins liked Eno's attempt to "recapture some of the delicacy of the band's initial work", offering up an album that was "not quite so bombastic as its immediate predecessors." The San Diego Union-Tribune contributor James Herbert noted that while Booth's "acerbic observations and wounded-troubadour vocals wend through all 13 tracks," they were mainly "set to more brooding tunes that burble with atmosphere." He felt Eno "indulge[d] in too much atmospheric dabbling". Johnny Dee of NME disliked Eno's produced for "strip[ping] the songs of personality, and zip, inadvertently creating un-songs", reasoning that these "sleep-inducing meanderings lull the listener into such a smoky kind of boredom".
Laid peaked at number three in the UK. It also charted at number 72 in the US, and number 86 in Australia. It was certified gold in the UK by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), and in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). By 2001, Laid had sold 539,000 copies in the US. "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)" charted at number 18 in the UK, and number 119 in Australia. "Laid" charted at number 25 in the UK, and number 40 in Australia. In the US, it appeared at number three on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, number 57 on the Radio Songs chart, and number 61 on the Hot 100. "Laid" was certified gold by the BPI in 2019. The song was included on best songs of the decade lists by PopMatters and uDiscoverMusic.
|Les Inrockuptibles||Albums of the Year||28|
|NME||20 Years On: Albums Of The Year 1993||28|
|Select||Albums of the Year||26|
- "Out to Get You" – 4:26
- "Sometimes (Lester Piggott)" – 5:10
- "Dream Thrum" – 4:47
- "One of the Three" – 4:08
- "Say Something" – 3:26
- "Five-O" – 5:25
- "P.S." – 5:04
- "Everybody Knows" – 3:28
- "Knuckle Too Far" – 4:39
- "Low Low Low" – 2:51
- "Laid" – 2:36
- "Lullaby" – 3:49
- "Skindiving" – 5:41
Personnel per booklet.
Charts and certifications
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- Maconie 2000, p. 206
- Maconie 2000, p. 206–7
- Maconie 2000, p. 207
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- "News". NME. 1 June 1993.
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- "British Band James Returns". The Seattle Times. March 1994.
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