Life Begins Again

The creative and commercial peaks of Tim Booth's music career fall further into the past with the release of his debut solo album Bone, a point driven home by the embarrassingly succinct summation on the front-cover sticker: "Ex-lead singer of James. The voice of the hit 'Laid' as featured in American Pie." In reality, there's far more to Booth's career than a single hit. The James back-catalog brims with unabashed pomp-rock songs, many as good as or better than "Laid." For his first solo trek, though, Booth misses the mark with nearly every shot.

Though still a strong and engaging singer, Booth uses too much of Bone to sound off on big issues, dealing in hippy-dippy philosophy when his strong suit has always been more personal. Even when the music—co-written and largely performed by Lee "Muddy" Baker—explores interesting corners, Booth gets pretentious: The potentially terrific album-opener "Wave Hello" stumbles into a lyric like "Welcome aboard the burning man," and the title track's vibe is broken by the line "Life's a bitch and I'm her whore." Nearly every time Booth and Baker catch something worth hanging onto, it's batted down by ham-handed philosophizing, culminating in "Discover"'s so-ridiculous-it's-not-even-offensive line "I've been the Nazi and I've been the Jew." Booth only manages real, solid connections on the rare occasions when he shortens his reach, as on "Fall In Love." Call it the curse of the visionary frontman: With no longtime bandmates to keep his indulgences in check, he wanders into treacherous territory, takes a seat, and soaks.

Drummers are more used to the back seat—it's where they sit—and Jimmy Chamberlin takes an admirably restrained approach on Life Begins Again, the first album by his post-Smashing Pumpkins and post-Zwan outfit, Jimmy Chamberlin Complex. For half of the album, Chamberlin and co-writer/guitarist Billy Mohler are content to riff along with jazzy, progressive-sounding rock instrumentals, noodling around a low-key center that allows the drums plenty of space to boom and fill. On the other half, Chamberlin enlists singers to help fill out the space—and to provide a greater sense of song for those without college-jazz-band training. Catherine Wheel singer Rob Dickinson breaks a long silence with the fine title track and the not-so-fine "Love Is Real," Billy Corgan sounds just like Billy Corgan on "Loki Cat," and Bill Medley (of the Righteous Brothers) croaks incongruously but endearingly through "Lullabye." The lyrics, all penned by Chamberlin, are full of wide-eyed optimism that, while never terribly striking, is always believable.

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