Since Transvision Vamp, Wendy James’ career has taken a lot of twist and turns. There has been a couple of solo albums and a period where she fronted Indie Pop band Racine. Let’s face it, Transvision Vamp made such an impact in the 1980’s and particularly with James at their helm that anything she was to produce in its wake was going to be somewhat overshadowed by the punk pop brilliance of her earlier years. Well, if there are marks for intent, then James is going to get gold stars all round with The Price of a Ticket.
Her band for this album is the very best that anyone could have hoped to put together. How this collaboration came together I do not know but James is definitely going to win Top Trumps with the members. The core of the band is made up of James herself, Glenn Matlock (of the Sex Pistols and The Rich Kids Fame, long-time friend but first time collaborator) and Lenny Kaye (The Patti Smith Group) with added members of The Stooges and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
So with this line-up you are going to expect something quite special and your first impression is that it is going to rock and be pretty punky, whether this is that past overshadowing again or just the 70’s retro punk line up, this isn’t the case. What you do you get instead is some very measured and completely intriguing songs with influences as diverse as The Cardigans, Velvet Underground and Doctor Feelgood. One thing this album will do is entertain. It’s 70’s punk but more early New York (which is where James now calls home) than later UK punk and this suits James well. Somehow you have a feeling that she is playing with you as the listener and that there is much more to what she is offering, it adds an arty New York subversiveness to the overall feel of the album.
Album opener “Palomas Downs” is significant because it instantly introduces you to the album and what you are in for. I have to be honest my first couple of play’s through of The Price of a Ticket I didn’t quite know what to make of it but as you take the time to really listen, it is as if there is a whole world that opens up for you. So much variety, intricacy and intrigue. So often the albums you actually take to heart and love the most aren’t the ones that are instantly appealing; those ones you love and can quickly tire of.
With The Price of a Ticket you have an album that is going to challenge you, almost force you to listen to everything it has to offer and if you take the time it is definitely worth it. “Palomas Downs” itself, starts slow and demonstrates just in the few opening lines the capability and range of James voice. It is not long before the guitars join in and the song settles into a rhythm. Your very first impressions are that it sounds very Lou Reed. It is partly James delivery and storytelling abilities with lyrics such ‘Let me see you dance… those crawling scumbags’.
The Cardigans reference comes in with the gently plucked guitar (and guitar solo mid-way through the song) on “Indigent Blues” and the melody in James voice. This is another narrative song but at all times there are lots of references and ear worms to James earlier career and I think if you are a fan of that work there is a more than enough to interest you. “King Rat” brings in a rawer and 70’s sounding blues style guitar. the steady rhythm and repetitive riff is very Doctor Feelgood, you can almost see Wilko Johnson shimming across the stage and it is refreshing to hear in a song these days. James’ delivery to back this guitar also changes from the opening numbers; there is less narrative and, instead its raw to suit the music as she yelps and growls her way through the song.
If you love a bit of garage punk pop then the highlight of the album is undoubtedly going to be “You’re a Dirtbomb Lester” This is an excellent garage pop song. I love the vibe, the guitar sound; that 70’s almost stripped back clean amp sound that you got before too many synth style sounds were ever introduced. This song is full of relentless energy which just increases as the intensity of the song increases. What James is so good at vocally is taking just to that edge with repetitiveness psych rock sound before gently calmly things down again before building the pace up again. As good a pop punk song as James as ever previously delivered.
“Screamin’ Back Washington” is an intriguing song, partly as it is so stripped back. One simple quietly played guitar very much in the background whilst James vocals and story dominate over the top. This shows the capabilities that James has to engage with her audience in the simplest of settings and it is this ability to story tell that stands out on this record for me. If you are looking for Transvision Vamp- “You’re So Great” delivers that. Same guitar style and punk pop delivery. Right down to the handclaps in the background and ‘You’re So great’ chorus. The album ends with a blue psych rock 7 minute “Its Alright Ma” which I loved, I always like a bit of hypnotic psych rock and this is a good album closer.
James voice and delivery has changed, it can still be bitter sweet, almost childlike, it can be snarling and deliver menace and lyrically this sweetness can hide a barb and many different levels of message, anywhere to the direct brutal truth downwards. What James also achieves is to make a cohesive record even though each song is so different to each other. The variety is such that I could break down and talk about every song on this album but times dictates you will have to discover them for yourself.
I also love the fact that this record is organic, so easy for James to have gone electronic and made an electronic style album, it would suit her voice well but it would be just one other album. This has an almost analogue feel to it, musicians playing, its simple, it plays upon the strength of James’s voice and with that they have been able to create a raw feel and vibe that the electronica route would not have given. After a few listens to The Price of a Ticket you will soon discover lots of reasons to fall in love with Wendy James all over again and why we need the James of the world to keep on delivering their talents and hopefully to challenge our perceptions of what we expect and like in the progress of that delivery.
The Price of a Ticket is released on February 19th, 2016 and available to pre-order now.