James - La Petite Mort
Over 20 years on from ‘Sit Down’ joining the elite list of classic British anthems, and after only one proper album in the last 13 years, perhaps we should be asking James, 'What took you?'. With La Petite Mort, they're finally back with more of their uniquely personal take on guitar music intact, yet sonically influenced by their recent tour with the chamber ensemble Orchestra of the Swan and the Manchester Consort Choir. Frontman Tim Booth still ploughs a lonely furrow on lyrical duties, his own particular brand of wordplay (“Messi scored / 100,000 people came”) shines brightly.
A strong theme of experiencing and coping with death comes through on the record, written against the background of Booth losing both his mother and best friend. That theme is laid bare on the late album tracks ‘Quicken The Dead’ and ‘All I’m Saying’ (“I’m dreaming of you / You are free of all the pain”) but the word “dead” is recurs on almost every track. Yet behind this sense of loss there is something tame about La Petite Mort; it’s inevitable that a band will lose the fire and passion of their youth and the Mancunians are growing old gracefully. There are still highs: the opening ‘Walk Like You’ throws the kitchen sink at its seven minutes (strings, a horn section, steel guitar, Booth’s patented falsetto); ‘Moving On’ is catchy and almost anthemic with its simple, repetitive guitar riff and “Leave a little light on” choral refrain while ‘Frozen Britain’ and Interrogation’ are OK but lack much spice. As with the recent return of Embrace, not a complete success but pretty close.