James Atkin (EMF): Songs Of Resistance – album review and interview
James Atkin – Songs Of Resistance
LP | DL
James Atkin, EMF’s dynamic frontman who memorably belted out 90s’ anthem Unbelievable, has used the lockdown period to hone his talents into a strong new album, Songs Of Resistance, tapping into some of the challenging issues of recent times. Naomi Dryden-Smith caught up with him to hear more.
James Atkin is back with a new album, Songs Of Resistance, arguably his best solo work to date, featured last week on Tim Burgess’s Twitter listening party. The release follows a year of dedicated music output, from the digital release of his fourth album Aries Pagan at the start of the pandemic, to the Tonight Matthew… supergroup series (conceived together with Richard March of PWEI), featuring weekly covers in collaboration with a range of renowned artist friends, including Rick Wakeman, Keith Allen, Toyah Willcox and Horace Panter (the Specials) – with all proceeds going to the Help Musicians Covid-19 charity.
Chatting to James about why this album’s special he said “The thing about this record that’s a little bit different – over the last 20 or so years, I’ve been writing stuff with Ian (Dench) from EMF. We wrote quite a few songs that were intended to be on an EMF album, and they’ve just sat there on a DAT or an old cassette. So I went back to these songs, and as the album was progressing I thought I really ought to include some of them, rework them and make them sound a bit more now and a bit more like me, rather than EMF. It’s probably a stronger album because quite a few of the songs have Ian’s influence and also play to my strengths a little bit – pop songs and vocals – which I shied away from for a long time. So the songs that are more knee jerk and more single-y, more poppy – songs like the one that’s out at the moment, West Country Raver, and there’s a couple of others on the album Hello People and Radar, they were intended to be EMF tunes ”.
The album opens with Hello People, that starts with a defiant “We won’t let it go now, we won’t live in a ghost town, all that came before us broken, but we never give up hope“ seem very relevant to the current situation. However, James explains it’s actually “a song about Brexit and the vibe of England and people being close-minded about people from other countries and lands. It’s a welcoming song – Hello People what’s new, times are tough can’t get enough. We’ve never really written political songs but it’s a kind of backlash to all that nastiness, because there was so much nastiness out there wasn’t there? The pandemic took the edge off the nastiness a little bit – but even in the rural area where I live people’s attitude was shocking.”
The album’s first single, West Country Raver, a tribute to those 90s ravers “lost along the way” who “still dance to Voodoo Ray”, is a delicious blend of nostalgia and euphoria tinged with sadness, with a vibe reminiscent of the dance tent at Glastonbury at 5am. It’s currently enjoying a fair amount of attention, including from 6Music. It’s also got a perfect lockdown home-made video to go with it, featuring James’ wife Rachael, who some will remember from Fluke, who has contributed both vocals and musicality to the album. “The video was shot just using a super 8 filter on Instagram and then me and Rach went out into the back yard and up onto the moors – it was that week when there was snow everywhere but the sun was really low in the sky. It kind of just worked, that simple idea of a raver coming home from a party, a bit lost on the moors; that was the angle and it came together really quickly”.
Another strong track is Big Big World, full of hooks and synths that call to mind Get Ready-era New Order, with an uplifting, call-to-arms chorus. “That’s another EMF tune. I’d been going down to see Ian with loads of ideas – he’s an amazing songwriter, in recent years he’s collaborated with so many people, worked with so many artists, like Beyonce and Shakira – he doesn’t start an idea himself, he’ll always take someone else’s idea and develop it into something different. So I said to him, come on Ian write a song. He rang me and said he had this song. He sent it to me, and I completely forgot about it for about 2 years – I got it back up, had a look at it, changed the lyrics quite a bit and wrote a new chorus for it. So that was another collaboration with Ian.”
Love song Lost In Translation documents the trials and tribulations of relationships and miscommunication – “silence is your language” – a song whose meaning seems more pertinent right now given the pressures of lockdown.
Final track, Far From The Maddening Crowd, directly addresses the pandemic: “Spread our wings and fly, let’s get out there, back to the maddening crowds…” . James says “it’s all about getting back to the crowds and being in a field, I think that’s what we’re missing isn’t it, that losing yourself amongst other people and feeling their energy, without sounding too much like a hippie. Strange thing to write a song about, longing to be with people – the opposite of Morrissey really isn’t it – far from that miserable indie kid wanting to be on your own!”
Songs Of Resistance is an album with feet straddling two camps: one planted firmly in the current serious and heavy issues we’ve been facing, the other dancing in those more carefree, lighthearted days of running around in fields and getting lost in music. This is EMF all grown up and relevant.
Download the album here
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