James Dean Driving Experience did not quite fit with the very exact times of the late 1980’s and as such missed out on the critical acclaim that they undoubtedly deserved.
There was just nothing definitive about their sound and as such they somehow seemed to play in the divide between being the greatest Sarah Records band that the Bristolian label never signed and arriving just that couple of years to late to capitalize on the mid 1980’s jangle-pop heyday that was morphing into Madchester just as they were releasing their best work.
In effect they may well have dominated either the era’s twee-pop sound or jangle-pop sound if they had just settled upon a definitive aesthetic rather than a mixture of the two. However for those of us whose need for musical categorization was as decidedly under-developed as our need to ‘twist our melons’ with the Madchester crowd, the brilliance of this EP shows that this was possibly ‘the’ band from the era that deserved a much larger discography.
Initially their general sound is rooted to the hushed Field Mice type style vocals, upon which various different influences are added. The EP’s genuine stand out track, Oh, Grateful (see below), juxtaposes such Wratten-isms to the sort of effervescent, metallic, truncated, jangled guitar riffs of a band like 1980’s contemporaries The Groove Farm. Similarly Drop Dead Darling has a similar aesthetic albeit with the slight, but alluring feel of a sophisti-pop flourish in the production.
The other two tracks marry their signature vocals to the more traditional jangle-pop that pervaded the mid 1980’s in the UK. Opener Clearlake Revisited (see below) doffs a definite cap at a Miracle Legion College Rock influence whilst somehow remaining quintessentially British with sort of fluttering, almost shy jangled riffs and delicate percussion that a band like The Siddeleys perfected within the same era. Similarly the final track, Ballad of Bedford Town, has a similar vibe, albeit with a much more pronounced bass line that gives a slight inference to the post-punk era that was in its final death throes at the time.
Many of us ‘oldie fans’ from the era will debate that the other EP, Sean Connery, is the best of their studio work, however it is the strength of the supposed b’sides that makes this one their undoubted magnum opus…it is just a shame that it did not have more competition !