On June the 30th 1998, James released their Greatest Hits, The Best Of James and apart from a couple of missing tracks it was just that. The Best Of. At the time I couldn’t remember a band so due to release a singles collection, with track after track of pure gold it was no surprise that it went down such a storm and brought them in to the public consciousness more than even at their Sit Down peak.
Giving them their first chart topping album the compilation album went double platinum. Suddenly James were everywhere and everyone was discovering old gems they’d not heard before or revisiting old classics. Having just come through Britpop the nation were still loving their guitar bands and this chance to relive the Madchester scene, which came before, was not missed. Often bands release their ‘greatest hits’ when they are splitting up but not James (they’re a band, with lead singer called Tim Booth). They were still going strong and so their next album became eagerly awaited.
Millionaires was released in 1999, only a year after Best Of and actually only two years since their last studio album, Whiplash. Surely riding on the crest of this good feeling wave the band could do no wrong. Yet, for some reason the album wasn’t well received. Hitting only number two in the album charts it was a bit too poppy for some of the older fans and the newer fans didn’t latch on to the singles like they had done with the Best Of. Well apart from me. I loved the album, I played it non stop and while I did like them before Best Of (I bought Whiplash for my girlfriend at the time) it had been the compilation that had really got me in to them.
After that the band seemed to change direction, from a fans point of view they seemed to shirk their new found popular status and instead tried to earn the respect of the critics. Pleased To Meet You was a disappointing effort, charting only at position 11 and bringing them to the end of their contract and going their separate ways. I remember seeing them at this time and being disappointed, they were playing mainly new material and it wasn’t good. One fan next to me shouting “this is bollocks” and sadly I had to agree.
Since then they’ve reformed and Hey Ma, their first album after getting back together was not a bad effort. They’ve also performed live with a choir and orchestra and released a couple of mini albums but none of that gave us an indication they were about to return with an album of Le Petit Mort’s calibre. Wow. Out of nowhere, a cracking album harking back to Millionaires. Yet this time there’s something else there. I can’t work out if it’s maturity or just the confidence to be yourself that comes with age. Opener 'Walk Like You' is a clear example of this, at times complex (it’s over 7 minutes and essentially in three parts) other times it’s simplicity shines through – yes I heard him right he sings "do-be-do" as a lyric at one point.
This theme follows, unashamed to repeating a lyric James use words or lines over and over on many occasions, it can appear lazy with some bands with James it just seems laid back and catchy. Throughout the album they do this and it works. Backed up by synths that at times give the album a Pet Shop Boys feel it really is Millionaires part II.
Le Petit Mort, French of course for the small death, I’m guessing relates to the losses Tim Booth speaks of in the CD booklet. A bit more information on that at All Music, http://www.allmusic.com/album/la-petite-mort-mw0002631516. They state that the decorated skull on the cover is about the Mexican way of celebrating life. This album certainly does that. Don't preview it on iTunes, it doesn't do it any justice (I made that failing but my wife bought it me) just go ahead and order the album, you won't regret it.