James took a seven year hiatus to transform from aging Baggy icons to dignified elder statesmen. While they didn’t overhaul their sound completely, they did disregard their old Madchester influences in favor of some of the Big Music leanings that had crept in on albums past. The biggest change for the band, though, was perspective. They had never been apolitical, with Government Walls featuring on breakout album Gold Mother, but Hey Ma found them both more mature and more outspoken about current events. The title track of the album found them directly addressing 9/11 and the ensuing wars. Many observers have been surprised at the lack of political and protest music in the last 15 years, but James have been one of the few larger acts (along with Radiohead), to tackle the War on Terror head on. There’s an extra dimension to Tim Booth’s voice as he mourns “boys in body bags/coming back home in pieces,” but he’s resigned and unemotional as he declares “war is just about business.” He understands the complexity and gravity of every decision and consequence (from the fall came such choices/even worse than the fall), but he doesn’t allow it to excuse hatred and greed (please don’t preach me forgiveness/you’re hard-wired for revenge). It’s an embittered but well-considered piece of protest pop that lingers even after a single listen.