james blake - the colour in anything

Johanna Norris

I inadvertently found myself in a musical version of the cherry plum test today, where revision was the book and James Blake’s new album, The Colour In Anything, was the cherry plum. Thinking that Mr. Blake would provide me with harmless and soothing background music to study to, the first 30 seconds of Radio Silence were enough to completely dissolve my revision streak. Once again, Blake has managed to make powerful music out of subdued sounds.

It’s been a long time coming, but after many hazy comments about release dates, much eye-rolling from his fans and the media’s frenzy over Beyonce’s Lemonade, Blake finally, quietly, dropped his third album into the hands of the public on May 6th. The months of rumours have not been months of useless anticipation. In an interview with The Guardian, Blake states that the intention of The Colour In Anything was to mark his “coming-of-age”. When you listen to the album and compare it to his previous work, there is certainly a maturity about it that had not quite manifested itself before. The familiar features of Blake’s music are all still there: grace notes, echoing English vocals and dreamy piano chords. But his voice has developed a more open, operatic quality and there is less trepidation in his mixing of musical styles with synthetic sounds.

Timeless is the first track on the album to have a darker side to it, which seems to suggest another dimension to the shy Blake in the first two albums. I Hope My Life testifies to this even more: it is entirely different from his previous work, with its rigid beat and aggressive synth-strings. He retreats to his safer, older sounds with songs like Love Me In Whatever Way and f.o.r.e.v.e.r. The track ‘Two Men Down’ is a bit of a black sheep. It sounds like an electronic revamp of an old love song, adorned with barking dog, cheesy key change and lyrics like “You know you sounded like knuckles that never cracked”. Blake’s gift for seamlessly transitioning between and merging classical musical forms with 21st century sounds is exemplary in Choose Me and Meet You In The Maze.

Blake has come a long way since his self-titled, self-produced album in 2011. On The Colour In Anything he collaborates with renowned producer Rick Rubin, along with Justin Vernon and Frank Ocean, suggesting that he has become less judgemental of outsiders’ opinions. Subsequently, he has managed to refresh his music, whilst leaving his own stamp on it. In a generation where it seems that masses of energy and efficiency are necessary to convey a message, James Blake keeps reminding us that less can indeed be more.