With a veteran group like James, it can be easy to praise them for merely outlasting many of their contemporaries as they diligently issue another solid late-career album. Such is the fate of many rock stalwarts in the eyes of the press and public. But 30 years on from their humble beginnings in early-'80s Manchester, James have aged gracefully, staring down their own mortality (both as a band and as individuals) with aplomb on their powerful 13th album, La Petite Mort (The Little Death). "Welcome to our coming of age, to embrace all that we've become" sings Tim Booth during the breakdown of epic album-opener "Walk Like You." This seven-minute opus full of horns and fiddles sets the tone for the rest of La Petite Mort's ten tracks, which were largely written following the death of both Booth's mother and his best friend. Such loss and grieving could have made for a decidedly more maudlin set, but part of James' lasting power has been their ability to keep their eyes on the horizon, and Booth's poetry here is beautiful for both its practicality and wit as he deals with the reaper head on. Even in reflection, he's more concerned with processing the moment and how to deal with what comes next, as on the band's uplifting single "Moving On." The album's title itself is a French euphemism for the feeling of post-orgasmic unconsciousness and the painted skull adorning the cover is a reference to Mexico's Día de los Muertos celebration, which honors the dead through vibrant, colorful artwork and gift offerings. The amusing title and the Latin-themed visual motif are a perfect match for one of James' more moving and personal records as they offer a set of colorful new songs that sound more inspired than sad. La Petite Mort is a quality release and a welcome return for a band that refuses to sit down.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger