In a bid for artistic credibility, former Transvision Vamp chart tart James begged Elvis Costello to write a song for her. Rather than hand off one scrap, however, Elvis took it upon himself — with help from his missus, Cait O’Riordan — to spend a weekend cutting ten pungent tunes from the bolt of curt, sharp-tongued cloth that typified his early work with the Attractions. (His demo sessions with Pete Thomas, who wound up playing on James’ LP, had something to do with the group’s Brutal Youth reunion.)
James’ breathy, pitchy, mannered voice doesn’t do justice to the best songs on Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears, which leaves the album a showcase for Thomas’ typically superb drumming and the casual sharpness of Costello’s hasty retrofits. A few of the tunes are gimmicks (the soundalike Clash citations of “London’s Brilliant,” the orchestral humphering of “I Want to Stand Forever”) or uncharacteristically trite (“Fill in the Blanks,” a prostitute’s monologue, trips over clumsy lyrics; the chord progression in the stately waltz “Do You Know What I’m Saying?” has an infuriating stall), but “This Is a Test,” “Basement Kiss,” “Earthbound,” “We Despise You” and “Puppet Girl” are all fine epilogues to the early Costello canon. Still, the suspicion that Elvis (who later derided the Chris Kimsey production) aimed his conceptual darts at James’ ambitions rather than the subjects of his songs leaves the album — inexplicably titled after a Bob Dylan lyric in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” — feeling like a practical joke at her expense.
After fronting a trio called Racine, James took a break and then returned to action as a solo artist, writing and producing I Came Here to Blow Minds. Her voice is pitched lower, more controlled and settled safely in the mix, occasionally multi-tracked, some of the vocals spoken. Despite bracing blasts of squall and a few provocative titles (“New Wave Flowered Up Main Street Acid Baby,” “You’re a Fucking Mess, but You Sure Is Pretty,” “These Beggar Memories”) and the surprising combination of heartfelt romance and solipsistic whingeing in “Don’t Shoot — I Ain’t Dillinger,” the non sequitur lyrics and routine guitar rock of this oddly personal but ultimately opaque record doesn’t deliver on its titular boast.
Recorded in New York, The Price of the Ticket is an all-star affair, on which her sidemen include Lenny Kaye, Glen Matlock and James Williamson of the Stooges.