tue 23/07/2024

CD: James Arthur - You | reviews, news & interviews

CD: James Arthur - You

CD: James Arthur - You

Pop delinquent grows up on extended third album

James Arthur's 'You' is open to interpretation

It’s an easy joke to suggest that James Arthur needs an editor. By this point, the 31-year-old singer is almost as famous for his lyrical mis-steps and ill-advised use of Twitter as his 2012 The X Factor victory.

You, his third album, seems to have been subject to the longest roll-out in history (first single, “Naked”, was released almost two years ago), and arrives at 17 tracks and over an hour in length. Prune away at least four soporific ballads, though, and you’ll find a decent pop-soul album; the insincerity of previous releases replaced with often gut-wrenching takes on broken relationships and Arthur’s very public struggles with anxiety, drugs, alcohol and depression.

The title is open to interpretation: Arthur has described it as “inspired by the stories of others”, but if it’s solely a gift to the listener then the raunchy pre-chorus of “If We Can Get Through This” is a little awkward. There’s the “you” that’s a “butterfly”, flapping its wings in a colourful show of non-conformism in the bold title track; the “you” of heartbreaks past on ballads like “Marine Parade” and “Empty Space”. There are even points where the “you” Arthur is addressing might just be himself: “feels like you piss people off whenever you talk - you know it’s okay not to be okay”, on the charmingly bouncy “Treehouse”, cuts close to the bone, rappers Shotty Horroh and Ty Dolla $ign popping up with bright verses like mates who have his back.

Preceding track “Quite Miss Home” is the album’s soulful heart, even if the domestic picture it paints made me think it was about Arthur’s mum until the couplet about snuggling up and watching TV. You don’t expect to hear a word as noncommittal as "quite" in an impassioned soul chorus, and it’s incredibly endearing every time it comes around. Reedy strings towards the end let the song down a little: maybe one day Simon Cowell will put some of his millions behind a live orchestra; or a gospel choir to take on the “ha-ah-ah-ah” background vocal on “Finally Feel Good”, or a guest vocalist to elevate heartbreak ballad “Marine Parade” higher than the robotic backing track that sounds like a sample of an old soul song put through a blender ever reaches.

The extended running time also leaves space for inconsistencies: the commitmentphobe of the vulgar “If We Can Get Through This” is, by “Falling Like The Stars”, seeing kids in his future. That’s James Arthur’s take on adulthood: quoting Taking Back Sunday lyrics, owning your mistakes and a future with someone who’s “still the girl in the club when I held your hair up ‘cause you had too much”. It’s a much better look.

Below: hear "Treehouse", featuring Shotty Horroh and Ty Dolla $ign

Prune away at least four soporific ballads and you’ll find a decent pop-soul album


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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The author, Lisa-Marie Ferla, sounds like she really likes James's music and him and wants to praise it and him, but is afraid she won't be taken seriously unless she's critical. I loathe that pretension in a critic. Deliberate digs of an artist come across as dishonest - and misses a real discussion of some very compelling new music.

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