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Road from ruin

A resurrected James explores the paths not taken



He might have just turned 50, but Tim Booth is still brimming with boyish enthusiasm. While conducting a phone interview, for instance, the James frontman is enjoying a long nature walk in one of Florida's alligator-populated National Parks. And his keen artistic eye catches everything: the wild turkey skulking in the bushes, an unassuming tortoise struggling mightily to cross the road on the drive in, which he was compelled to carry to the other side. "And right now, there's the most amazing cricket on the path in front of me," he reports. "He's glorious, with these massive orange hind legs, and he's walking away from me rather than hopping. I guess he's quite confident!"

It's this same attention to detail that Booth brought to the latest recordings from the recently reunited James, a band most widely known for the singles "Sit Down" and "Laid." Released stateside as The Morning After the Night Before, the album was initially issued in the band's native Britain as two totally diverse EPs: The Morning After, with sunny-but-rueful janglers like "Kaleidoscope," "Rabbit Hole," and "Got the Shakes," was tracked live in a studio over an intense five-day period, while The Night Before (and darker, chillier morsels like "Crazy," "Porcupine" and "Ten Below") was patched together piecemeal, using a File Transfer Protocol site. At their leisure, band members could log in, tinker with a James number, then log out so the next member could add his parts.

After 10 studio sets, Booth was eager to push the parameters. "We've been around so long that we're always looking for new ways of recording," he explains. "So there were two methods that we employed. One was to not be in a room together, literally, by doing it on a private FTP site. And the other was to be in a room together, but for defined dates, so we really had to get our shit together. So the album is totally schizophrenic when you hear it as a whole."

Booth has even begun to see the beauty of the electronic age: He has a solo effort coming in March, so he's been busily constructing a personal website to advertise it. He's almost embarrassed to admit that he secretly opened a Twitter account, just to master the 140-character artistry of it. "But it's tricky," he concedes. "I don't really wanna talk about my personal life — that's boring and also out-of-bounds, to some degree. So how do you then tweet? And what do you tweet about? So I've kept it to observations or whatever, like the beautiful tortoise we just rescued. But I quite enjoy the discipline of it."

Booth also delights in other art forms. He's writing, with the intention of one day completing a novel. As a former dance instructor who taught the Five Rhythms technique, he's constantly in expressionist motion around his California house. And after his door-opening role in Batman Begins, he just finished filming the villainous part of Gabriel the debt collector in Simon Powell's buzzed-about new drama Poor Wee Me.

Is everything coming up roses for this optimist? Not quite. Back in the James tour bus and heading out of the park, Booth suddenly stops waxing rhapsodic. "Oh no!" he gasps. "It's squashed! We just passed the turtle that we thought we'd saved, and it looks like someone's squashed it. Which is not a good omen, I think ..."

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