sun 07/08/2022

Album: James Bay - Leap | reviews, news & interviews

Album: James Bay - Leap

Album: James Bay - Leap

Hertfordshire's finest hits a primal spot, but is it at the expense of individuality?

'The woah-woahs and undeniable emotional gut punches are all there'

James Bay couldn’t be more unhip if he had pelvic removal surgery. He is so middle of the road that he could be a cat’s eye. Everything about him is old before his time – he was inspired to pick up a guitar by hearing “Layla”, he sings in a husky transatlantic semi-Celtic voice, he exists in a continuum of soft rock that runs from the start of AOR through U2, David Gray and the Coldplay imitation explosion of the 00s through to Ed Sheeran and Louis Capaldi.

And he is also very, very, very good at doing what he does indeed. This album makes no bones about his positioning. The opener “Give Me the Reason” is absolutely, unabashedly in an interzone between the Clarkson rock of Journey, Foreigner, Boston, Chicago, Toto and the rest and the huge windswept romanticism of U2, The Alarm and co. “Nowhere Left to Go” updates the template a little, but only enough to include Coldplay in the mix. Through the record, you’ll hear gospel, you’ll hear folk – even a little Clannad in “Endless Summer Nights” – but always, always, it’s through the prism of this deep, archetypal sensitive-man-rock. 

And really, he is shockingly good at it. Every crescendo, every “woah-woah”, every lyric about how “All I want is someone when the night is long”, or how “We used to shine”: all of it hits a deep, primal spot. You’re reminded of why local radio classics are classics, why people play them at their weddings and funerals: because everyone recognises the very basic urges expressed in them, and the craft through which they’re expressed is extraordinary. 

That very universality, though, makes it hard to connect to the music on a more intimate level. It is so very focused on everyperson emotions that discerning a real individual in the centre of it might make you squint. And it’s also deeply traditionalist to the point of conservatism, predicated on a “sensitive” man’s yearnings and need for comforting that actually could come over a bit toxically demanding. It’s most notable in “Save Your Love”, which read one way is a sweet – if paternalist – rejoinder to a woman to wait for someone worthy of her, but read another might seem like a Drake-like bit of bitterness at a woman out having fun.

But hey, the target market for this album won’t care about that sort of woke nonsense, right? The woah-woahs and undeniable emotional gut punches are all there, so the album will do fine. And Bay’s talent is absolutely undeniable. It’s just you can’t help wondering, in the age of the similar musical traditionalism but far rawer emotion of Sam Fender, if he might not be capable of something much more lastingly powerful if he punched through the homilies and got to something a bit more individualist.

@joemuggs

Listen to "Give me the Reason" from Leap:

That very universality, though, makes it hard to connect to the music on a more intimate level

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters