Released 25 years ago in 1994, Wah Wah is an album of jams and experimental tracks recorded during the Laid sessions. The band had intended for it to be released with Laid, but this was overruled by their record company.
Wah Wah was recorded during the six-week sessions for the Laid LP at Real World Studios in Bath. The band had set up a second studio where they could jam when not working on the Laid album. Brian Eno or Markus Dravs would then select a piece of this improvised music and mix it, but only doing one take on the mix to keep in the spirit of the improvisation. Tim was then left to come up with lyrics, but with many of the tracks they remained instrumentals or had soundbites rather than coherent structured lyrics.
All but three of the tracks on Wah Wah were conceived this way according to Tim’s liner notes. Pressure’s On dated back to 1991. Maria, albeit in more conventional form, had been in the James live set since 1992, but failed to make the cut for Laid. Tomorrow was said to have been conceived at BBC’s Maida Vale studios on the day Laid was released, when the band had time between playing a song into each show that day on Radio 1.
The concept of Wah Wah came about when Eno visited the band’s rehearsals in Manchester before the album sessions began and witnessed the unique jamming process which provided the seeds for James songs. He felt that the results of these jams were as important to James sound as the songs that emerged and encouraged them to consider releasing these jams.
Plans to release Wah Wah coincidentally with Laid were shelved as the record company were initially reluctant to release it. Jam J was coupled with Say Something from Laid as a double a-side in March 1994 – however it was the latter that received the majority of the radio play and the MTV-friendly video.
Struggling to decide how to release the album, it eventually came out as a limited edition which was to be deleted after one week in September 1994. There was to be no single, no tour and very little other promotion of the album.
Despite this the album reached number 11 in its week of release although it did disappear quickly from the charts. Pressure’s On, Basic Brian, Jam J, Honest Joe and Tomorrow (later to be resurrected for Whiplash) had featured regularly in James live sets, but there was little to appeal to the more casual James fan in the rest of the album. For the more committed, it provided a previously unseen insight into the band’s working methods.
The press response to the album was mixed. The low profile of the release saw it ignored in certain quarters. Some reviewers missed the concept of the album and were puzzled as to why James were releasing it at all. The NME bizarrely called it “one of the few genuinely engaging dance albums around.”