James: La Petite Mort (Cooking Vinyl)

Mancunian indie stalwarts return with first full length album in six years

Released Jun 2nd, 2014 via Cooking Vinyl / By Richard Lewis
James: La Petite Mort (Cooking Vinyl) Bewildering to think that of the holy triumvirate of what was once called Madchester: The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, James all almost a quarter century on since the scene’s 1990 epoch are all going concerns. Remarkably, considering the passage of time all three still feature their classic line-ups, with James restored to the sextet that recorded their creative and commercial high watermark Gold Mother, parent album to a clutch of hit singles including evergreen festival anthem/ millstone ‘Sit Down’.

Where the present band differ to the Roses and the Mondays however, James despite hiatuses have never really been away for that long and in stark contrast to the endlessly trumpeted 'resurrection' of the Roses have been able to produce a new album's worth of material every few years.

The first full James album since 2008s undistinguished Hey Ma, discounting 2010 mini albums The Night Before and The Morning After, La Petit Mort as the title indicates, is awash with themes of sex and death.

Drawing largely from the same confessional tone that coloured key James lyrics such as 'Come Home' lead singer Tim Booth’s voice remains in fine shape, easily able to command the songs, swooping from baritone to falsetto.

Following the band’s long association with Brian Eno in the 1990s, this time around The Killers/White Lies cohort Max Dingel has sensibly been drafted in to push the requisite buttons on the recording console and presumably reignite some of the anthemic edge that Brandon Flowers and Co are famed for. The influence of Las Vegas’ finest certainly seems to have rubbed off somewhat as the closing stretch of excellent radio single ‘Frozen Britain’ sounds not entirely dissimilar to the Nevada troupe, who James supported at Wembley Stadium last year.

This infusion of newfound energy definitely benefits initial material heard from the LP as sterling lead single ‘Moving On’ shares the same urgent conviction of ‘Say Something’ while impressive lengthy opener ‘Walk Like You’ showcases the band's early indie-folk influences plaited with the house edge heard on their early 1990s LPs and the arena rock atmospheres of later in the decade.

While these songs possess the same brevity that made the group’s name as a superb singles act, several tracks needlessly outstay their welcome once the point has been made. The five minute trawl ‘Gone Baby Gone’ is testing, the chorus lyric of ‘love, love, love’ succeeded by ‘blah blah blah’, where it's unclear whether Tim Booth is parodying other lyricists or his initial draft somehow made it through on to the record. Similarly the electro-thud that underpins ‘Interrogation’ never truly kicks in, despite its six minute running time.

A late rally, the spiralling waltz of ‘Quicken the Dead’ last but one constructed around an oscillating piano figure that runs throughout proves to be a highpoint however, one surely destined to be a live favourite.

Something of a curate's egg all told, over thirty years since their first appearance on record, despite flaws La Petite Mort proves the Mancunians still have the wherewithal to summon up some their inspired left of centre magic of old.