James - La Petite Mort (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
THE first full album from James in six years struggles to measure up to the band’s finest efforts (Gold Mother and Seven) but hits some glorious highs nonetheless.
Produced by Max Dingel (Killers, Muse, White Lies) and written, as ever, by the band with lyrics by Tim Booth this does underline the band’s long-standing ability to craft intricate songs that match lyrical intelligence with thoughtful composition.
Walk Like You, for instance, opens proceedings with a flourish – a powerful statement of intent that’s all about self-confidence that has piano and string-like electronic arrangements, a brisk beat, epic guitars, falsetto vocals and an epic sense of slow-build. There’s even, dare I say, a touch of the Abba about some of the instrumental arrangements. But at close to seven minutes, it’s the type of opus that the band are now synonymous with and it’s close to rivalling the likes of Sound by the time it reaches its heady climax.
Alas, from such a bravado opening, the album sometimes struggles to keep pace. The synth sound that accompanies Curse Curse sounds like a bid to sound contemporary and emulate the likes of The Killers. But it’s underwhelming and almost Euro-lite pop.
Moving On does, however, herald another instant favourite (and a former IndieLondon single of the week). It’s got a catchy electronic riff underpinning it, a keen sense of the old and new (in that they know how to embody their trademark sound, while making it sound fresh) and a feel-good element that should mark it out as a live favourite among the new material.
The hit-and-miss nature of the album is once again underlined by Gone Baby Gone, which is another track that sounds more filler than killer.
But Frozen Britain has a gritty energy to it that could almost, lyrically, serve as a sequel to Laid with lines like “come dance with me, out of our heads, escaping a coffin, or waking up the dead, come dance with me, all through the mud, I’m dying to get you, these bones are all that’s left…. Emily come to bed, Emily come to bed, make a boy out of me”. By the time it reaches its rapturous chorus, you’re appreciating another dark favourite.
Elsewhere, the album delivers a similar mix of good and average (though never bad). Interrogation has some interesting horn-like arrangements to counter its thought-provoking lyricism, Bitter Virtue has a nice sense of balladry about it (adopting a quasi-romantic melody that is utterly distinct and genuinely attention-grabbing).
And All In My Mind also has an intimacy about it that charms, and which leads nicely into Quicken The Dead, which re-introduces the horn sound complete with swirling piano arrangements and another epic sense of grandeur.
All I’m Saying then draws the album to a close with another slow-builder that, again, showcases the band’s ability to slowly impress. But they perhaps needed more of a belter to end things on.
La Petite Mort is therefore something of a mixed blessing. It’s great to have James back (speaking as a long-term fan who has seen them live many, many times). But while good and occasionally fantastic, there’s just something missing that prevents me from entirely raving.
Download picks: Walk Like You, Moving On, Frozen Britain, Bitter Virtue, Quicken The Dead