26 April 2015
James Bay - Chaos And The Calm
You can really tell that I no longer pay any attention to some sections of the press - until two days ago, I had heard nothing about James Bay; nowt, zilch, the square route of jack. This is not really a surprise in some ways, but the guy has won a Brit Award already before he had released this album (he had released some EP's beforehand though), came second in the BBC Sound of 2015 list and seems to be taking the world by storm with Hoizer (someone else I am going to be look at shortly). The main reason he has passed me by is that I am no longer looking at the hype for some bands, it just makes me cynical and I tend to wonder if the talent is from within or from other people. I do have a couple of good points before I start - Mr Bay has had a hand in writing all of his songs, there is not one cover here (thank the deity) and it only has one producer in the form of Jacquire King who has worked with Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse amongst others. This is something that gives me hope before I listen to the record, there is an apparent idea of control over the album from the outset. I will be reviewing the standard version of the album, there is a deluxe version (which has an extra three tracks) and all that jazz; on a side note, deluxe versions were supposed to be released a year after the original - not on the same day! It is not something that is unique to James Bay, it has been happening in metal music for far too long as well. So, without any hype what so ever, it is time to here if he was worth it in the first place?
Starting the album is the track "Craving"; a tale about wanting something, but not knowing exactly what it is that you want. It also describes the unchangeable nature of small towns and how existence can be the same one day after another, something that can drive people to their wit's end. It is a tale which is used time and time again, musically it is interesting enough to engage the listener; it is not 100% my type of thing as it reminds me of the music of Jimmy Nail (the actor/singer from the North East England), not in vocal style but in delivery. The second track is called "Hold Back the River" which is a story about how life (and people's ambitions) can get in the way of being a couple. It has more than a healthy dose of Jeff Buckley to it, if he was alive he might has been wondering if it was his song. It is well play and there is nothing wrong with it, the only thing is that I have heard this type of song before and the delivery was just as good (if not better). But, it is a lot better than a lot of the current pop charts; this is a big bonus in its favour. What has surprised me whilst researching for this blog was that this was a UK top ten song; it is good to see a song which is not the same as the standard pop icons doing well. Next up is "Let It Go" which is a slow guitar plucking number, another love song about the bitter end of the relationship when it all heads south. The sadness to the number is an obvious heart-tugger and once again, it is an experience that is universal and is easy to identify with. It is a little bit too obvious in places, the man knows the emotional buttons to push and it is played really well; once more I am not falling for its charms, but I can see why people would be captivated by this song and I fully expect it to be used on a soap at one point when a couple are breaking up in a montage. The fourth song is called "If You Ever Want To Be In Love" and this song is the first one to make me take more than a passing interest, the lyrical delivery about pleading for love is the same as ever; the music feels like it has an Elton John vibe (something that I have no shame in admitting is something I really approve of); it also has a guitar tone that more than nods it head to Dire Straits - basically this touches all the base points for old school classic rock.
"Best Fake Smile" follows on and tries to stomp its way to your heart with a cautionary tale about ignoring someone who is trying to make their world seem better than it is. It is once again a decent number, it is once again not rocking my world but I am also seeing why this would be popular. "When We Were On Fire" is another tale of song that dealing with the stick/bitter ending of a relationship, this time looking back at how the relationship was when it was in a better place and there was not some much baggage. It still has a hopeful pleading part, asking the recipient to go back to how it was before. Musically I am hearing a lot of Tom Odell in this number, it is decent enough and it is not doing anything wrong; but once it is over, I am not chomping at the teeth to listen to it again. The sixth number is "Move Together" is the first song where I just cannot connect with, it fails for me on an emotional level (something that the song is trying to create from the beginning). It is well played, but it is untimely boring for me; next! Following on is the song called "Scars", pleading for love to come back to the singer as he wishes to grow with the person in question. This is much better "Move Together", it is another that takes a little piece of the soul of Jeff Buckley and tries to make it the property of the owner. Whilst music is not always original, mainly due to the fact that there is only some many variations of chords and notes; but this song is a number that owes its existence to another artist, it wears its creative heart on its sleeve and it is another song trying to be an anthem. A pattern is emerging on this album which I will get to at the end of the review.
However, "Collide" is a refreshingly different number for this record - it is just a good honest song that is not aiming for that moment that makes the crowd sing in union. It just comes out with a bit of a bite and it is a welcome burst of energy for an album that was in danger of falling under the weight of its own vision. "Get Out While You Can" sounds as if it was created by Kings of Leon, the riff and tune remind me of "Use Somebody" quiet a lot (not to the point of being a word and note duplicate), but considering that Jacquire King produced the album that "Use Somebody" was taken from, it would seem as if he has a signature production style. As for the song, it is a decent number and keeps up the energy created by "Collide"; but there is not originality to it. Acoustic opening "Need the Sun to Break" is another anthem for the broken hearted and for people who desire a change in their luck. It is one of the better soulful numbers on this album, the performance is gentle when it needs to be and this heightens the chorus for that moment when the audience does participate; it feels a lot more organic than other numbers on this record and that makes a difference compared to a lot of the album. "Incomplete" is where the album ends for the standard version, it is combines Mr Bay on the acoustic guitar, a choir and the rest of the instruments playing lightly to emphasise the emotional matter of walking away from a love that is ending (another song about this matter, it makes being in love sound like a minefield). It ends the standard version of the album on a gentle number, well played but nothing that is making this man shiver with emotion or connect with the singer.
This is something that has to be said - not every song needs to be an anthem to unite the masses. Seriously, I blame Snow Patrol for this and when "Run" was shown on the TV at Glastonbury years ago and the whole field was joining in, ever since then a lot of artists have attempted to make an album when every song is an anthem. James Bay has attempted to do that here and in places when it feels organic and natural then it works, but that is not the case for most of it. I cannot criticise the album in terms of performance or vocals, the man is obviously a talent lad and (as I mentioned before) it is a nice change to the other artists at the top of the charts (also he pisses all over Jake Bugg and his "Lightning Bolt" which still send shivers of pain down my spine). I would really be lying if I said it was my type of thing, but I can also not condemn it either. A decent album which is not for me, but might be the album of the year for other people.
6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there
Top track - If You Ever Want to Be in Love
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the James Bay website here
You can also follow his activities on Facebook here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
For our Deezer users, here is a link for you
Finally for our Tidal users, here is a link for you
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