So not unlike Beyonce who revealed her sixth album ‘Lemonade‘ with virtually no pre-promotion, James Blake released his third album without much more preamble than a short announcement on the 5/5/16 stating that his new album ‘The Colour In Anything’ would be released at midnight on the same day.
Mysterious billboard sightings in London and Brooklyn had appeared with illustrated murals a week earlier and coincidentally only a few days after his featured appearance on Beyonce’s album ‘Lemonade’. Fast forward to the actual release of Blake’s third album, and although he hopes his life isn’t a sign of the times, he’s certainly right when he speaks his mind on ‘The Colour In Anything’.
This follow-up to his 2013 Mercury Music Prize winning album, the fluid and brilliant ‘Overgrown’ features two note-worthy changes; firstly, the name of the album which subsequently changed from ‘Radio Silence’ to its current incarnation and second, a certain guest feature was omitted on the final album.
In looking at the name ‘The Colour In Anything’, we need to take into account the actual cover which sees Sir Quentin Clarke – novelist and much famed illustrator put pencil to paper. Sir Quentin’s major claim to fame is he illustrated the books of the great children’s novelist Roald Dahl. Sir Quentin appears to use the image of Blake that was used for the cover of ‘Overgrown’. Minus the bleak look of ‘Overgrown’, James is placed in an illustrated world which still portrays Blake alone but this world evidently does not feel quite as bleak as before, even if that’s only on the surface. Blake’s album is a dreamy, hypnotic almost fairytale world with subtle undercurrents of the disturbing – attributes seen in some of Road Dahl’s most celebrated works.
‘Radio Silence’ as the opening track to the album is a brain storming opening and evidently feeds into that rather; surreal, dark, fairytale like energy as it details a painful relationship with the powerful repetitive chorus, ‘I don’t know how you feel’ before synths burst through the melancholy to build an unnerving intensity – it’s a track that sets the tone perfectly for the album as a whole.
The second note worthy issue with the album is the omission of one Kanye West. He was set to feature on the album on a track called ‘Timeless’. Using a hip-hop artist would not have been alien to Blake had Kanye West featured. On his last album, Blake employed the services of Wu Tang legend and producer RZA on the track ‘Take A Fall For Me’ (2013). The glaring omission of Kanye West however is in some respects a blessing in disguise.
‘Timeless’ is a dark, ominous track that sees Blake’s productive flair erupt Vesuvius like as crisp production, the background noise of water before a deep satisfying bass rips through while synth energy carries you on a melodic wave – it’s seriously good and it’s clear Kanye’s addition would take something away from the track and even the album (yes I said it).
This is not an album that needs that type of artist – it’s more than a ‘how many units album can we sell’ (even though of course that is needed) it’s an album that states clearly – James Blake is a formidable name in music who possesses a productive diversity that allows him to delve into electronic sounds right through to R&B type sounds.
‘Put That Away and Talk To Me’ is a direct assault on all of us that are found buried in our smart phones searching for crap when in actual fact talking to our partners is the more pressing need. Complete with sounds that are reminiscent of the sounds from a phone it has an almost R&B slow jam feel and smacks like a particularly fervent dominatrix ‘hit me hit me please’. Cleverly he adds in a sample which further elucidates that this track was inspired by 90’s R&B as an American female appears to be in a state of irritation with a partner.
While his productive savvy is by and large well known, it is with this album that we really absorb James Blake in his evolution of sound. It’s a body of work for fans old and new to appreciate that as well as a producer of the highest calibre, he is a great great singer. I would say that this album demonstrates with 17 tracks as evidence that Blake is vocally as brilliant if not more versatile than Sam Smith (yep I said it). It’s in the almost acoustic /ballad type tracks driven by the simple addition of a classic piano like ‘f.o.r.e.v.e.r’ and the title track that you can really appreciate James’ vocal range as he goes from falsetto to deeper ranges with sublime ease and quality, while majestically holding our attention.
The stripped approach evidently comes courtesy of co-producer Rick Rubin who is famed for his minimalist approach to production. The contemporary R&B savant, Frank Ocean co-writes on ‘My Willing Heart’ and ‘Always’ – the latter being the penultimate track and that’s telling because it feels positive and it kind of brings about an element of resolution for James who up until this point has detailed all his emotional vulnerability in the most candid way possible – it’s a beautiful track and conjures up images of a brilliant sun rise.
Justin Vernon in turn as the main writer for the brilliant Bon Iver, a group synonymous with that minimalist type of sound, collaborates on two tracks; ‘I Need A Forest Fire’ (watch the video above at the top of the page) which is evidently about metaphorical/emotional fires bringing ‘his’ new growth which features vocals from Vernon; while Vernon supplies writing credentials for the spine tingling last track and acappella ‘Meet You In The Maze’. Blake harmonises bringing a church gospel feel and again states with affirmation – James Blake can sing – it is after all the final track!
This album (for me) has no clear singles because this is an album, a body of work that really does take you on a journey from its brilliant start to its exquisite end. Listen to it’s original sequence in one whole sitting and you’ll see what I mean.
It fires the emotions, tackles the genres and will for sure be one of the stand out albums for this year – it’s a Nation favourite.