Manchester favourites James are in line to make a welcome return with the release of 13th studio album La Petite Mort. The record will be the bands first album in seven years and has been produced by Max Dingel (Killers, Muse). Since forming in 1982, the band enjoyed commercial success with hits such as Sit Down and She is a Star and have gone on to sell over 12 million albums worldwide. Although embarking on small tours after reforming in 2007 (vocalist Tim Booth had taken time out to concentrate on other projects), La Petite Mort is the first time the original line up have recorded together since 1993’s Laid.
La Petite Mort (meaning ‘The Little Death’) was written and recorded in the wake of two unfortunate events for Booth. He lost his mother and best friend in quick succession, so it’s understandable that the record deals with themes of mortality and many of life’s mysteries. Booth puts it “Lyrically most of these songs are infused with death. Life lifts up her skirt and gives us a flash of her mysteries; it is a shocking and uplifting moment. This record is my attempt to make some sense of it.”
The album opens with the seven-minute Walk Like You. The track builds and builds in familiar James fashion, brooding around like a sulky teenager until the weight of the world is lifted with Saul Davies’ violin coming into play. It takes the song to a different path, exploding into all out instrumental frenzy. First single off the album Moving On is the standout track. It’s classic James, from the songwriting, arrangement and production to its flawless performance. Booth shines on this hooky number. The quality doesn’t slip when we arrive at Frozen Britain. The verse paints a quintessential 90’s indie picture, driven again by Booth’s melodic vocals, before the chorus powers into view with the catchy cries of “Emily come to bed”. All in my Mind and Quicken the Dead are both driven by the piano, the former brings a much-needed change in dynamics, while the latter utilises some great scale work to give this this track its legs.
There are a couple of numbers that don’t sit overly well within the album. Curse Curse is an attempt to shift focus to electro trance-pop, and it doesn’t really come off. Instead, it sounds like a group of slightly elder gentlemen who have just discovered the synthesizer after returning from a week in Ibiza, secretly misled they hadn’t stayed longer. Gone Baby Gone is another attempt at a move into different territory, however it’s just a little underwhelming, though nothing a catchy chorus cant help out with.
La Petite Mort is a solid effort from the band. For the most part, the writing is focused, the production is polished and Booth’s vocals standout in a manner we are used to hearing. Sure there are a few misfires, but here’s nothing wrong with experimenting your sound. However saying that, only James do James best and after all these years, that classic James sound is what we want to hear.