After being awarded the BRITS Critics Choice Award this year, James Bay’s debut album Chaos and the Calm is set to shoot him to stardom in the form of Britain’s most exciting new brooding man with a guitar and an uncanny capacity for “traditional songwriting”. Fancy something like Hozier but with more genre-specific rigidity and less ambition? Want someone like Ben Howard but with less discernible technical ability? James Bay is the guy.
It’s difficult to pin down where the acclaim has come from. With the recent market saturation of the established singer-songwriter trope – the aforementioned Hozier and Ben Howard, as well as Ed Sheeran, George Ezra, Passenger, Jake Bugg to name a few – it appears that James Bay has garnered attention in the same way that shit vampire fiction became ubiquitous after the Twilight series tapped into a generation of awkward, hormonal pre-teens: give the people what they want. If the order of the day is a soulful bloke with rich vocals and a passion for folk-pop-cum-blues, James Bay ticks all the boxes. Add to the mix model-good-looks and an omnipresent signature hat, what more could you want?
Granted, pop songs don’t have to read like Keats, but surely a modicum of effort should be encouraged.
Overall, this is an inoffensive album, but that’s exactly the problem. The tracks oscillate between the faintly catchy, the unmemorable, and the boring. To an upbeat rhythm, jangly guitar hooks and soulful backing vocals, the lead single ‘Hold Back The River’ soothes the listener with comfortably vague, decidedly trite lyricism such as “Once upon a different life, We rode our bikes into the sky.” The playful country aesthetics of ‘If You Ever Want To Be In Love’ promise an unexpectedly shy side to an otherwise confident performer, who talks coyly about an unrequited love interest – “Wanted to ask if we could have been, But my tongue wouldn’t break the seal, You always had something effortless, At school you were the biggest deal”. Profound. Granted, pop songs don’t have to read like Keats, but surely a modicum of effort should be encouraged.
A great dip in momentum comes with ‘Move Together’ and ‘Scars’, before the punchy blues riff of ‘Collide’ tries to inject a little pace back into proceedings. The racing enthusiasm of ‘Get Out While You Can’ comes to a halt with the dreary ballad ‘Need The Sun To Break’, and this is the atmosphere that sees out the album, with the more impressive finger work on ‘Clocks Go Forward’ serving as the only really laudable feature. It’s difficult to pick out a track to go back and listen to again; a few of the singles warrant a second listen, but the majority seem to blur into one insipid, blanket track, with only slight changes in tone signifying actual breaks.
It’s less exciting new talent promoted by the one of the biggest institutions in British music, more Sunday morning tea-room ambiance.
Again, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad album, it’s just not particularly good, the hype goes unfulfilled. It’s less exciting new talent promoted by the one of the biggest institutions in British music, more Sunday morning tea-room ambiance. It’s already number one on the iTunes Chart, and at £11.99, I just don’t feel that you’ll get your proverbial bang for your virtual buck. George The Poet was robbed, folks.
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