sun 21/07/2024

Album: James Blake - Friends That Break Your Heart | reviews, news & interviews

Album: James Blake - Friends That Break Your Heart

Album: James Blake - Friends That Break Your Heart

Our James Blake-phobic reviewer has to admit the singer's latest has much to admire

Blake in bits

There I was, gleefully prepared to give this a good kick-in but, annoyingly, it’s defied my expectations. I’ve come to associate James Blake’s singing with the worst excesses of I’m-so-vulnerable-me, post-Jeff Buckley, falsetto-voice-breaking, and his public persona with joylessly prescriptive and enfeebled ultra-wokeness.

While Friends That Break Your Heart closes with three tracks, including the title song, that fulfil my Blake stereotype, ie translucently wet Bon Iver-tronica, there’s also much on board that is impossible not to admire.

Blake did, after all, begin his career with huge promise and originality. A decade ago his single "Limit to Your Love" came out of nowhere and, along with the now rather forgotten Jamie Woon, blueprinted a new musical archetype, the sensitive balladeer playing against pristine, vanguard electronic sparseness. His fifth album offers variety and, for most of its length, defies the listener to box him in as hipper Lewis Capaldi-ish anxiety music.

Instead, he darts hither and thither, opening with a kind of squelchy doo-wop spiritual “Famous Last Words” and, along the way, dips into post-trap sounds, notably on “Frozen”, featuring US MCs JID and SwayVay, and the tune that follows it, the rolling head-nodder, “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine”. Another guest who impacts well is US singer SZA who adds groove to “Coming Back”, reminding that Blake appeared on Beyoncé’s peerless Lemonade.

The lyrical concerns are often the usual solipsistic Blake fare (“If you loved me so much, where d’ya go?”) but not always. It pains me to say that the best song “Say What You Will” is a poetic, Leonard Cohen-style corker with great lyrics (“I watched though a window as my young self died / I’ve been popular with the popular guys / I gave them punch lines / They gave me warning signs”) which is sung in a likeable lower key before breaking into a falsetto note that even I have to admit is stunning. And then there’s “Show Me”, which has elf vocals floating about in space, and…

OK! BASTARDS! It’s mostly a bloody good album. Happy now?

Below: listen to "Coming Back" by James Blake featuring SZA

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