David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 104: James (Extraordinary Times)

August 8, 2020

Here's the thing about COVID-19: it sure slowed down a world that was moving way too fast.

Consider that two summers ago, a complete World Cup was staged in Russia. The football (I will be non-American with the terminology) ends at the same time that a boy's football team in Thailand gets stuck in a cave for more than two weeks. Volcanoes, heat waves, flooding, and wildfires cause thousands of deaths across the world, at the same time that political jockeying, such as at the G7 Summit, has a large portion of the world ignoring global crises like climate change. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia was finally allowing women to drive, while India was decriminalizing homosexuality.

Mind you, this was all barely 730 days ago (look at how COVID -- or this damn blog -- has made me slow big chunks of time down to days). In the midst of all that summer 2018 chaos, James released Living In Extraordinary Times. They, like the rest of us, clearly had no idea of the extraordinary times that awaited (and probably still freaking await) us.

I have no idea if James is recording a follow up to Living In Extraordinary Times at the moment, but I would challenge them on the wisdom of that.  Just let the songs from this 2018 release seep through this extended nightmare. It's like God woke up in the last 730 days and said, "ha, time for you all to have to put up with the disco version."

Out of all the fantastic songs that James has ever made (and trust me, it kills me to finally play my James' card, knowing that I have 260 days left and can't fall back on any of dozens of songs that could inspire me), "Extraordinary Times", the pseudo-title track, could stand to have a disco version. More on its abrupt ending in a bit.

"Extraordinary Times" is both a great candidate for a disco version and a lousy one. It starts with a groove and riff that sounds like it came from the late 1970's, punctuated by intense drumming that makes me picture David Baynton-Power standing like an ancient Incan musician flailing on his drums, sweat dripping off his body. It's an opening that would have demanded people to flood the disco.  Soon, slashing guitars enter the fray, setting the song up to be a full-on dance party.

However, as in the words of Talking Heads, this ain't no disco. "Extraordinary Times" will keep changing tempo, the band creating a suite of four parts in 4:43 that would constantly make dancers have to change mid-gyration. Not that James wouldn't enjoy that, I am sure.  After all the lyrics are primarily about humankind's most basic gyration: sex. Or more importantly, the proliferation of life through procreation.

Part one is an instrumental assault that opens the song with the kind of emotional turbulence that precedes sex. It's a tease that the party is going to end soon, so get your groove on before the cops come and shut down the place because of noise ordinances.

Part two moves into punk, Tim Booth's venomous lyrics spoken through a bullhorn, idealizing in the crudest way, a de-evolution through sex: "I wanna fuck you/until we break through/into other dimensions/when we're all one/before the big bang blew." It is 20 seconds of discomfort, of cacophony, of despair, focused entirely on lust. My wife, fellow huge James' fan, frankly was disgusted the first few times she heard the song because this crudeness is so in your face.

She just had to be patient. Part three, coming off a single piano note played by Tim Hunter, turns the punk song into mainstream rock song. Our lusts are more about our use of sex to escape: "We can hold it all/hold it all together/in this never ending game of hide and seek/oh, we're reaching out for ecstasy forever/while the bodies pile-up, face-down on the beach." And we have been led to the water's edge, to the origin of life.

Part four is the cuddle, music reined back to ballad, simple drum beat, evocative guitar line, and Booth's "It's true what the mermaids sing/It's love makes us blind/don't ever forget/we're living in extraordinary times."

And then we go back to the beginning, literally: the aggressive musical set up for Booth's creepy come on in part two redux: "Love me/most of me loves you/some of me hates you/like I hate myself/when I don't live to/some aspiration/that never flew." In 2018 (or 2020) it's easy to beat ourselves up for what we aren't accomplishing in this never ending game of hide of seek.

We try to hold it all together again through mid-tempo love song, then cuddle up again trying never "to forget that we live in extraordinary times."

The coda, an extension of the cuddle, is a simple assertion for sanity in extraordinary times: "How to ignore this?/Live in the moment," repeated three and a half times until the plug is pulled before the last syllable, so that we all live and die in the "mo." Only God or fate is going to allow us those extra moments.

"Extraordinary Times," as with almost every James' song I have heard (and I am really, really biased), reminds me what it means to be human, to fight through the difficulties of life, to remember that love is the drug that saves us every time. Love is mankind's MiracleGro.

And we end up at the cover of Living In Extraordinary Times, a vibrant, colorful picture of flowers overtaking a grenade (you can see it in the YouTube link below). On the inside cover, lyrics are covered by these ever-growing flowers (very frustrating for those of us who want to see every word) and when seeing James in summer 2019, I bought a shirt that shows flowers growing all around the phrase "it all makes sense on LSD." I have never taken the phrase literally (although a lot of the stuff happening probably does make sense on LSD).  Love is the drug; the world makes sense when we love; I just wish more of us made it.

"Extraordinary Times." James. Living In Extraordinary Times. Infectious Music. 2018. Link here.

Day 103: Eagles "Already Gone"

Day 105: The Alarm "Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke."->

See complete list here.