Three years after winning the Mercury Prize with his stunning sophomore album Overgrown, James Blake is back with the rather poetically titled The Colour in Anything. The young British electronic maestro returns after two critically acclaimed releases with a 17-track effort, which also features Bon Iver guitarist Justin Vernon and joint song writing from the now elusive Frank Ocean. Tracks such as “Modern Soul” certainly sounded promising when they surfaced back in February, so this third release was highly anticipated, at the very least for me.
Before I go any further, if you have the misfortune of not having heard of James Blake before and are already enticed, I would strongly recommend listening to his previous work, especially Overgrown which really is gorgeous. If you enjoy those, I think you would at the very least appreciate this new album as The Colour of Anything does have a fair amount in common with James Blake’s previous releases. Firstly, he has always been an incredible vocalist and he does not let this up in the slightest. On every track, his dulcet tones are beautiful, and whilst he might not show off his lower range quite as much, he can certainly hit those high notes and still displays as much intensity and passion as ever, delivering some truly haunting performances. All the electronic arrangements remain just as elegant and delicate and perfectly complement his voice throughout, making this album a collection of really sublime and surprisingly dramatic songs in some cases (see “Choose Me”). I also have to praise the fact that this album remains engaging despite its relatively long runtime. I personally find any album over an hour needs a certain amount of quality to keep my attention and this succeeds in doing so quite easily. Finally, whilst I can’t always decipher his lyrics, this new album does seem to follow in the same vein as the others, with various pained ballads about lost love which are all very heartfelt and well executed.
However, there are also clearly a few changes with this record, with Blake taking it into several different and unfamiliar directions which are all well incorporated into a cohesive tracklist. Firstly, the tone is definitely much lighter. I wouldn’t exactly say it was cheerful but it is nowhere near as dark and brooding as Overgrown’s “I Am Sold” or “Take a Fall for Me”, perhaps hopeful is a better way of describing it. The production and instrumentation is also slightly different as the sound isn’t quite as deep, rich and textured as it was on Overgrown. An increased amount of tracks have a crisper, cleaner and more stripped-back sound and feature just Blake and a piano (“f.o.r.e.v.e.r.”) or introduce just a smidge of acoustic guitar (“Two Men Down”). This is by no means a bad change, in fact after his previous albums it’s quite refreshing to have fairly simple instrumentation. In other places however, his R&B influences are much more prominent with some harder, bouncier beats and the occasional snare drum even, as visible on “Radio Silence” or “Timeless”. These are all fairly well spread out, and are all enjoyable, in addition to creating a lot of variety in the sound of the album. The only real negative I can find from this album is the increased use of more electrified vocals on tracks such as “Put That Away And Talk To Me” and “Meet You in The Maze”, which was also used on his self-titled debut. This Autotune-type effect appears just a bit too often and for me, doesn’t really add anything as I’d much rather just listen to Blake’s ordinary voice which is already exceptional. Whether this was just a stylistic change I’m not sure, but I don’t really find it works. Probably just a minor complaint, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Overall, this is a solid piece of work from James Blake and I can’t find much that really upsets me about it. This is definitely a simply review but this is possibly his most simple release, and this simplicity is quite effective. His vocal abilities are probably his best attribute and they are really given centre stage here, with the backing instrumentals being toned down slightly but still remaining as sharp and as graceful as ever. Another exquisite record from one of the most talented young British artists.