Though James Blake tells us that he’s removed himself from a ‘perpetual cycle of anxiety and depression’, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Sonically speaking, Blake is where he has been since his debut album. He illustrates a deeply sombre image, singing with a consistently mournful tone to fill the gaps left by a backdrop of music that feels sparse, yet inconceivably textured. Blake’s ability to exploit a particular space within a soundscape means his music can so often suit a variety of settings and moods. There’s certainly no denying his talent, yet he finds himself a victim of the scope of his natural capabilities.
Instead of continuing the development of being a singer-songwriter who produces electronic music, on The Colour in Anything he is too often an electronic artist who sings. For an album that clocks in well over the hour mark, it’s regrettably unambitious and even a little safe. Dare I say it; this is effectively James Blake on autopilot. There is little progression between this and Overgrown to convince those who are yet to be sold on his passive style of song writing.
Fortunately, the magnitude of Blake’s audience has increased rapidly these past few years, and those who are endeared by his soulful musings and cold ambiance will still find a lot to love here. Personally, I wish Blake would push himself harder. I’m not so much disappointed as I am underwhelmed by his lack of development as an artist. The raw youthfulness found on his earlier records was acceptable at the time, but unfortunately not much has progressed with age. The Colour in Anything often verges on the sublime, only to undermine its own potential. I figure we’re at the point now where should come to expect more than that, however lovely the music may often sound.
7 out of 10
Slurring his words over echoey piano, a series of unrelated synth effects, and an occasionally off-beat drum machine, James Blake is back. If you’re a fan of his sound, The Colour in Anything is likely to be a welcome addition to his discography, with plenty of new ‘tunes’ to latch onto. If, like me, you’re not convinced, you might find it grating that his only major creative leap here seems to be doing what he does for longer. The album clocks in at over seventy minutes long, and yet there’s very little I can say about it that wasn’t covered during our discussion of Overgrown.
The production is clean and clear, Blake’s voice is pretty, and I’ve already forgotten most of what happened. I don’t get lost in the supposed ambience of his music. It’s too icy to be enveloping, and rarely dynamic enough to be engaged with. As before, I’d love to hear the outcome of Blake producing someone else’s record, or channeling his considerable talents into actually trying to write songs, but I don’t enjoy spending time with his current output. It has all the heart and warmth of a model kitchen.
6 out of 10
James Blake’s latest, surprise album has been a tricky one to review for me. My first listen was extremely satisfying, and I stand by those initial thoughts, but there are a few niggling issues that, on reflection, I simply can’t shake off. The Colour in Anything is a lengthy album. At double the length of both his previous LPs, it was always in danger of not being decisive enough about what should make the final cut.
Having experimented with everything from stripped back soul vocals and simple piano lines, such as 2011’s Enough Thunder, to electronic, sample based tracks with strong dubstep influences, as heard on 200 Pressure from 2014, it feels as though James Blake is either now struggling to assimilate all his influences at once, or attempting to please the entire spectrum of his fanbase. Regardless, the result is that instead of a focussed, progressive release, we find a track for everyone.
Opener “Radio Silence” has all the hallmarks of a great James Blake track, with harmonised, delicate vocals, synths with just enough grit, lovely chord progressions and a satisfying but sparse beat. “Timeless” provides the darker, electronic driven sound that I lean towards with Blake, while those that lean in the opposite direction will probably get their fix from a track like “Waves Know Shores”, which concentrates on soulful vocals and muted, distant horns, or “f.o.r.e.v.e.r”, which is probably as stripped back and sombre as you’ll get. In between though, oddities such as “I Hope My Life” puncture the atmosphere, and the title track is probably the least identifiable soul track Blake has released to date.
What’s frustrating is that, despite what may sound like a scathing pull down of the entire release, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each listen of The Colour In Anything thus far and intend to return to it frequently. I could easily have fawned over the tracks that I really enjoy (there’s at least 8 of them!), forgotten about the oddities, passed over the shortage of new ground, and obfuscated the fact that those 8 tracks and 40+ minutes of music didn’t even make up half the album. Doing so, however, wouldn’t do anyone any good. The Colour In Anything is a solid but lengthy album by a talented musician who’s already made it abundantly clear in past releases that he doesn’t need quantity to impress his listeners.
7 out of 10