In the four years since its big-time breakthrough Laid, James has released only one album, a marginal collaboration with Brian Eno (Wah Wah). In that time, frontman Tim Booth also recorded last fall's Booth and the Bad Angel, a marginal collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti. So it's about time Whiplash came along: Despite a few quasi-futuristic tracks that sound disturbingly like new U2 songs ("Greenpeace," "Go To The Bank"), most of the album displays a satisfying mixture of brisk-but-dramatic pop tracks ("Homeboy," "Tomorrow"), mid-tempo ballads ("She's a Star"), and deft combinations of the two styles ("Waltzing Along"). In other words, Whiplash follows the very formula that earned the band some pop fame a few years ago. Nothing on Whiplash is quite as exhilarating as the band's big hit "Laid," but fans should herald it as a refreshing return to form.

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