- 11 Feb 19
Guess who's not sad now?
The fuzzy glow of true love has inspired some of the worst albums in pop history. Thus alarms may have clanged as it was revealed that dubstep crooner James Blake’s fourth record was a valentine to his partner, Good Place star Jameela Jamil. Might an unabashed drip-fest await?
In fact the female who has most deeply influenced Blake is arguably Beyoncé, with whom he collaborated on 2016’s Lemonade. He seems to have taken from her the lesson that it is possible to be both experimental and accessible. Certainly Assume Form is his most approachable LP yet, his dawn chorus vocals and depth-charge beats put in the service of what are essentially straightforward ballads.
Blake (30) tinkles and croons most conventionally on the beautiful, delicate title track. The first of a formidable line-up of guests pops up on ‘Mile High’, in the form of Travis Scott, whose deadpan rhymes snuggle enthusiastically with Blake’s auto-tuned coos. Later it’s the turn of André 3000, who gatecrashes ‘Where’s The Catch’, a twirling dirge wherein Blake delves into the sick-bag giddiness of new romance (“We delay the show/ We kiss so long/ We breathe through the nose”).
There’s also a bizarre hat-tip to Irish traditional music, with ‘Barefoot In The Park’ sampling a recording of the old lament ‘Fil, fil a rún ó’ as recorded by a then 13-year-old Valerie Armstrong for RTE’s Come West Along The Road in 1971. What next – a Weeknd concept album about Kerry’s failed five-in-a-row bid?
Blake has stated that, in singing openly about his positive feelings, that he is confronting one of the oldest taboos in pop. He tweeted last year about the reductive “sad boy” label dangling around his neck. “I’ve always found that expression unhealthy and problematic when used to describe men who openly talk about their feelings,” he declared.
With Assume Form he lives up the challenge implied by that statement. Here is an LP that traverses a kaleidoscope of feelings but which, even as it bounces between dewy-eyed infatuation and dinner-then-Netflix domestic bliss, is never less than soul-baring in its honesty. Blake has arrived at a Good Place of his own.