The Life Cycle According to James
BY KRISTI YORK WOOTEN
FOR PURE POP
“So this is it, our life on earth, we’re made of stars, we’re made of dirt,” Tim Booth sings in “Walk Like You,” the first track on James’s new album, La Petite Mort. It’s one of many tracks in which the English band – which formed in the early 1980s and got its start supporting Factory Records labelmates New Order – ponders mortality. “Let’s find a love as deep as as it is holy,” Booth continues as the song builds into a singalong chorus showcasing his inimitable fasletto.
The words are still as important to James as the jangling guitars. Although its biggest success yet in the US came with the release of the alternative rock hit Laid in 1994, James’s blend of rock, rhythms and memorable refrains hasn’t changed much: one listen through La Petite Mort in its entirety, and you’re ready to click back through the tracks, go again and dig deeper into Booth’s favorite themes.
Sex and religion often dominate the band’s cover art and lyrics, but Booth says La Petite Mort is more about celebrating the beginnings and endings of life, “although if you’re writing about birth and death, sex has to turn up at some point,” he laughs.
“Moving On,” a song about the death of Booth’s mother, has an accompanying video that depicts two characters made of yarn. One holds the other while she unravels – only to be respun into the body of a child. The song isn’t a morbid ballad, but rather in true James form, it’s a uptempo rambler with an optimistic backbeat. “I’m on my way, leave a little light on,” he sings.
Booth was raised in a religious family and says “the rich language and rich imagery” of the church remain with him, especially as he pens intense verses. “You can’t help but see [remnants of those] things under the door,” he says.
Life and death and the questions surrounding their entrances and exits can be found in nearly every song on La Petite Mort, right up until the final track, “All I’m Saying.” However, the band finds a sense of humour in grief – and a reason to keep playing.
Booth says James is stronger than ever and that the band’s live gigs recently have included audiences ranging in age from 20s-50s and beyond. Inspired by a crowd in Portugal who carried him 50 meters to the sound table and back during the new song, “Curse Curse,” Booth has even taken to stage diving of sorts. “Some performers do it to be macho and aggressive. I’m going in there to connect,” he says of his crowdsufing techniques. “Who wants to do something strange with me in the audience?”
James plays at New York’s Webster Hall tonight.