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With its strong nasal tone, seamless glide, and smooth falsetto, Tim Booth’s voice is not unlike Bono’s, a similarity that became even more pronounced once Brian Eno took James and its lead singer under his wing in 1994. And much like U2, James—despite only Booth and bassist Jim Glennie remaining since the band’s 1983 inception—has always stayed loyal to its core intentions: making tight, well-crafted pop songs concerned with love and topical social issues. So, considering the similarities between the Dubliners and the Mancunians, it’s no coincidence that Pop and Whiplash, both born of the neo-disco revolution, aim for the same result: a choice selection of innovative dabbles in electronica spread across a wide plate of the band’s trademark vibe. The first album from James in nearly three years, Whiplash, produced by Stephen Hague with “frequent interference and occasional co-production” by Eno, leads off with “Tomorrow,” a classic update of “Sit Down” complete with a sing-along chorus fueled by Booth’s soaring emoting. The band doesn’t venture into the techno landscape until the fifth track, “Greenpeace,” a blinding schizoid creation of folky rumination and techno blur. “Go to the Bank” and “Play Dead” are also hopped up on loops, distortion, and stop/start breakneck beats. James popped from the womb 14 years ago playing soothing folky new wave, then in the ’90s morphed toward a Simple Minds-style sprawl. But this new incarnation of the band—best represented here by the cross-bred “Avalanche”—is the most satisfying to date. And Whiplash, many will (hopefully) find out, is most surely James’ greatest effort.

—Sean Daly