James, Living In Extraordinary Times (BMG) *****

JAMES have always defied categorisation. Originally hailed as a whimsical version of The Smiths, they were ultimately likened to grandiose stadium-fillers U2.

The truth is they were neither. Driven by singer Tim Booth’s unique take on the world, and underpinned by those jangling guitars and glorious harmonies, they ploughed their own very singular furrow, while producing at least three classic spine-tingling anthems (Sit Down, She’s A Star and Seven). The wonderful news for all James fans is that their superb new album, Living In Extraordinary Times, contains at least three more.

This time around Booth, whose rich, expressive voice has never sounded finer, is angry. A resident of California (via Boston Spa and Manchester), he is furious at how the American dream has turned into a dystopian nightmare under the car-crash presidency of Donald Trump. The incendiary opener Hank, with its snarled lyrics about “white fascists in the White House” giving “NRA high fives”, sets the tone, wondering how on earth the USA has sunk so low. The fury is dialled down to regret on Coming Home (Part 2), a nod to the band’s first major hit Come Home, in which Booth laments the effect his nomadic lifestyle has had on his son Ben, and there’s a glimmer of hope on the gorgeous Many Faces, with its lilting chorus. But frustration, disbelief and anger rule the day, amplified by a driving rhythm section that takes no prisoners.

Produced by Charlie Andrew (Alt-j, Wolf Alice) and rising star Beni Giles, with crucial contributions from long-time James collaborator Brian Eno, Living In Extraordinary Times continues the magnificent James renaissance which began with their previous album Girl At The End Of The World. While most other bands from that unforgettable Madchester music era are now looking back wistfully on past achievements, James continue to make vibrant, vital new music.

Robert Beaumont

• James play Scarborough Open Air Theatre on August 18 and Leeds First Direct Arena, with The Charlatans, on December 9