AFTER 13 years apart, Sit Down rockers James have survived estrangement and grief to create La Petite Mort, an album Booth calls a ‘celebration of life’
To watch James on stage, firing on all cylinders and in the form of their lives, you’d never guess that the long-running Manchester band went six years without speaking to each other.
The unique history of the much-travelled modern rockers began before most of their current competitors were even a twinkle. The first compact disc was just being released when James formed in 1982, and they laboured in the cool indie margins for the better part of a decade before payday really arrived in the form of such ‘90s anthems as Sit Down and Sometimes, and albums that took them into the nation’s living rooms, like Seven and Laid.
“When our hearts get broken, if we don’t go into self-pity and get destroyed by it, your heart actually enlarges. It comes back bigger” – Tim Booth
But when they decided to call time on what was already an epic story in 2001 — quitting while they were ahead, or at least not as far behind as they had been when they were close to imploding two years earlier — the James collective dispersed in no uncertain terms.
They had almost no contact with each other until 2007, reuniting for the following year’s Hey Ma album. Ever since, they’ve been sparking like never before. Like their new album La Petite Mort (the 13th of their extraordinary shelf life), their live performance for BBC 6 Music at Maida Vale Studios last week showed a band making some of their best music and, guess what, liking each other a lot too.
“For me, it feels the best it’s ever been,” says lead singer Tim Booth. “We’ve had great periods, but our communication was never great. We had a lot of love, but we wouldn’t know how to express it. Now it’s like that, plus a maturity and an ability to communicate. Creatively, we can’t judge, but I think if this record had been released by a new band, we’d be hailed as the new Messiah.”
The new album also happens to be one of the most uplifting you will ever hear to be inspired by death. Booth wrote its lyrics in a state of surprisingly beneficial bereavement, after the death of first his mother, and then his close friend Gabrielle. Both on record and in conversation, he has the emotional depth to deconstruct the experiences.