James - Laid (Fontana). WHO knows why the members of all-male band James are wearing frocks and eating bananas on the front of their new album, but with the quality of the music this group puts out, who cares? James have been around for years without really catching the public eye in the way some of their fellow Manchester musicians did. The Smiths liked them well enough in the 1980s to take them on tour as a support act and they have consistently released albums that meet with critical success if not universal adulation. The closest James came to that was with the chant-along smash single of 1991, Sit Down. James have always been a class act, but on Laid they have outdone themselves. Perhaps it was the influence of Brian Eno (who took on the job of producing this album), perhaps an extraordinary arrangement of the planets, but for whatever reason, James have suddenly put out an album that is not just good but excellent. These are reflective songs, moody works which defy classification. There is a touch of folk in there, a pinch of post-punk malaise, but there is no way you would ever dare pigeonhole this album. Why? Because incredibly enough, James seem to have come up with a new genre of pop music. The marvellous thing about this album is that it honestly feels like James had no idea what they were going to do when they started. The James sound incorporates the lament of vocalist Tim Booth, the restless drumming of David Vaynton-Power, the '60s grooves of Mark Hunter's keyboards, Saul Davies' singing violin and the subdued guitars of Larry Gott and Jim Glennie. And, of course, there is the inimitable touch of Brian Eno, erstwhile keyboard player for Roxy Music and the man who gave U2 their credibility back. The songs on the album will take you up (Sometimes, Knuckle Too Far ), bring you down (Dream Thrum, One of the Three ) and help you visit all the emotions in between. The band has invested a deal of emotion in this work and that emotion has most certainly made its way on to the recording. If it sells well, so much the better. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter because this recording is about a lot more than record sales and financial returns. Go out of your way to buy it.