James: La Petit Mort – Out 2nd June 2014
We hope you’re sitting down. Grief, anger and hope informs Manchester septet’s new, and altogether vital, studio album.
Manchester veterans James have returned to the fold with their first release in 4 years, since their dual mini albums of 2010 -The Night Before and The Morning After. It is also the first album written and released in the wake of Tim Booth’s loss of his mother in 2012.
It is hard not to read this event’s impact into the lyrics. Songs such as the first single Moving On seem rather ominously weighted, content-wise, with grief, even if the delivery belies this signpost.In the main, across the record, rather than moping overtly in any understandable upset, La Petite Mort rushes with exhilarating swirls of hope and ambition.
The chiming, winding piano of the openingWalk Like Yougreets the listener with the line “You know more than you think you know”. Soon, Booth’s modest observation is emboldened from the spare piano tinkle into full-band rumble. The orchestration swells as the lyrics tumble with damning reflection (“Stories of pain/Shoot yourself with a ricochet”) before looking onto more positive shores come the close. Clocking in at over 7 minutes, it is a bold start, garnering both applause for its conviction and admiration for its execution.
In its wake comes potential controversy.Curse Curse is the black sheep in the batch of the new material. Standing out for its incongruous tone, both lyrically and sonically, it is propelled by stabs of raving synthesizers, with a merry, wonky drink-infused eye fixed upon the dance floor. Undeniably standing on an EDM high wire, the lyrics encourage rabid libation, ‘’Give me more tequila’’ Booth orders before acknowledging, ‘I’m as crazy as a wasp on a window/In a heat wave’. Whether the track works or not will depend on your tolerance for in-your-face and down-your-throat dance insistency.
It is not alone as being the only potential misfire. Gone Baby Goneboasts an ill-judged chorus; one that sounds like a late-90s pop disco hoedown. All that’s missing are braces and cowboy boots.
Such quibbles are minor, however, as when the record works, it works stupendously well.
The aforementioned Moving On rushes with a brilliantly memorable chorus and is an anthem for those wishing to shed their skin or wriggle free from emotional heartbreak. It is a stand-out blast of hopeful triumphalism.
Frozen Britain is coiled with the sort of arpeggio guitar riff that rocks the head back and forth with an instant pull; nagging and catchy. The politically inflectedInterrogationsteers away from any one-dimensional wan jingoistic pokes at the powers in charge. Instead, it is eloquently vocal at the wider environment and also inwardly at Booth’s own self, and with scathing introspection too. The song throbs with a giddy hook of resignation and anger. Thewelcoming, warm gentle shuffle ofBitter Virtuecould have comfortably sat (and held its own) on Dexys’ wonderfulOne Day I’m Going To Soar.
With a band as established as James, it is easy to compartmentalise their output in accordance with their own past. This does neither the band nor the audience any good. All it does is feed nostalgia and diminish the new through comparison with the old. Suffice to say, James have a long history of mixing commercial fruits whilst maintaining a degree of integrity. This easily continues that track record.
The title ofLa Petite Mortemeans ‘the little death’. It is often used to describe the consequence of an undesired event occurring where a part of the individual’s soul dies. Maybe Booth and Co have exorcised this experience throughWalk With You’s statement of intent, “Let’s inspire/Let’s inflame/Create art from our pain”. Theyhave done all of this and more within the record’s 46 minute run time.
It’s wonderful to have James back and in such fine fettle. An album for the head, the heart and the soul.
Written by Greg Wetherall (@gregwetherall)
La Petite Mort will be released on 2nd June 2014. You can pre-order the album here.
Here is the video for first single Moving On: