Album: James Blake – The Colour In Anything
Released 6th of May via Polydor
How do you release an album in an age when no one’s buying albums? The question is surely on every artist’s mind since The Life of Pablo debacle earlier this year. Gone are the days of a teaser single and a release date; if you’re not plastering lemon posters all over the city, you’re doing something wrong. And thus, taking cues from recent collaborator Beyoncé, James Blake appears on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 show, debuting a single and slyly mentioning that The Colour in Anything would be released in just a few hours. Compare a certain band’s antics over the same week, fiddling with opacity settings on their website and deleting their social media presence with, I’m sure, some deep political motivation; James Blake’s casual comment was no less planned, yet far more dignified. And just like Lemonade, The Colour in Anything builds its hype not through gimmicks, but through music.
The single debuted on the Annie Mac show is also the opener to the album; ‘Radio Silence’ washes into life with Blake’s signature falsetto and steady, sumptuous beat. The melody adapts a very shrewdly-chosen Bill Withers lyric, the tension from lost love quietly simmering before bursting in a flash of synthesisers that will be familiar to anyone who span ‘Retrograde’ a hundred times in 2013. It is, quite simply, classic James Blake. And it’s also among the most misleading opening tracks in musical history, because from here the album takes a decidedly more organic turn.
From the opening notes of second track ‘Points’, a stoic melancholy pervades the album. Lyrically, James Blake draws from that staple of downbeat, the break-up; on ‘Points’, a dub-inflected track with repeating and subtly layering vocals, he plays with people’s propensity for change, lamenting that “it’s sad that you’re no longer her.” The theme continues on the delicious title track, which along with ‘f.o.r.e.v.e.r.’ is one of two tracks performed entirely on the piano, both swooning and shivering so hard they would make Adele blush; here it’s his personal change that’s at stake, as he beautifully posits how one day he might not find—you guessed it—the colour in anything. These are sentiments as old as the dawn, but rarely have they been put so simply and so sweetly. Such age-old ideas are less prevalent on the at once hilarious and heart-breaking ‘Put That Away and Talk to Me’; detailing the omnipresent screen’s erosion of love (see Damon Albarn’s ‘The Selfish Giant’ from 2014), what should be a piss-take becomes unfairly powerful thanks to Blake’s delivery of the title, his often honey-like voice suddenly snarling with pent-up indignation.
What’s great about this album is how the various songs on this album explore the end of a relationship through different perspectives, moods and genres; what’s outstanding about this album is that it spans seventeen tracks and succeeds on that front every single time. There is not a moment misplaced on this album, no song, no lyric, no bar; but beyond that, there’s barely a moment repeated. Blake channels his electronica roots at times, such as on previous single ‘Timeless’, whose groove is expounded at the start but obliterated by a siren-like synthesiser that throws the track into an entirely more panicked direction. This is the track on which the fabled Kanye verse was to appear; that Blake turned down the greatest rock star in the world should be evidence enough of the confidence this album exudes. Indeed, it’s crucial that James Blake’s voice is the primary component of the album, as his vocals encapsulate the emotion of the music behind them. On two tracks, both co-written with Frank Ocean, he manipulates his own vocals into a feminine tone and register, with incredible execution.
Duetting with his female doppelgänger on ‘Always’, he gives the sentiments of the album an even more timeless tone; we sense his lyrics are intimately personal, but there are individual lines that any broken heart in any era could grab onto. His one concession, his one guest vocalist, is perfectly chosen; Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, the godfather of neo-mope, lends his inimitable voice to ‘I Need a Forest Fire’, a track that would fit perfectly among his own best works. Perhaps that’s the key to this album; James Blake seems to perfectly fit each hat he tries, be it soul (‘My Willing Heart’), dance (‘I Hope My Life’) or, on standout track ‘Choose Me’, world-fusion. He steers the album through every facet of feeling, driving us to euphoria on ‘Two Men Down’ and bringing us to tears on ‘The Colour in Anything’. Everything he tries, works.
“Music can’t be everything,” sighs Blake on album closer ‘Meet You In the Maze’, a track indebted to Justin Vernon’s influence on the album with its acapella autotune choir engaging in harmonies that wouldn’t be out of place on an Eric Whitacre number. It’s a bold line to close your album on, and in this case it’s simply incorrect; the previous 75 minutes prove it. Because across these 17 tracks, James Blake manages to channel the very core of humanity, the instinctual emotion behind every rash decision, into a musical form. This is an album whose beats judder and sway in tandem with its lyrical narrator’s anguish; it’s an album both entirely conceptual and wholly hummable. In a supposed “post-album” world, it’s not a breath of fresh air, it’s a ray of sunlight superheating through a window and waking you up early. It is the triumph of music over statement, and unquestionably one of the decade’s classics. Roll over, Radiohead.