Album Review: James Bay – Electric Light

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James Bay switches things up on sophomore album
James Bay became one of the biggest breakthrough sensations of the music industry at the end of 2014. Singles ‘Hold Back The River’ and ‘Let It Go’ turned into big international hits and the singer-songwriter dropped his successful and critically acclaimed debut album Chaos and the Calm early 2015. Although he had a three year break from releasing, he does not consider his second album Electric Light a comeback. In an interview with Metro he explains that he toured extensively with his last record and by the time that finished, he started recording new material immediately, together with producers Paul Epworth and Jon Green. We now get to hear the results and it sounds completely different than what we are used to from him!

So far, Electric Light has received mixed reactions from both fans and critics. Let me start with some deserved praise! Bay could have easily recorded an album full of soft blues rock and singer-songwriter pop, because he knows that stuff did wonders for the start of his career. The British star however does not want to settle for more of the same, as he has dreams of selling arena tours, so he went for a bigger, more diverse sound on the new record. Gone is the long hair and the hat, replaced by a more slick look with leather jackets and colourful shirts.

Bay kicked off the campaign with lead single ‘Wild Love’, a mysterious synth pop ballad with obvious vocal effects. He followed it up with the incredible single ‘Pink Lemonade’, that serves hook after hook in a powerful, pop-rock sound with a bit of a glam attitude going on. With the gospel inspired ‘Us’ he proved that he sure did not lose his ability to write a touching ballad. But what does the rest of the album have to offer? A whole lot in a whole lot of different genres, sometimes even within one song. ‘Wasted On Each Other’ moves from a drum and guitar based rock sound to an almost a capella proper pop hook in which James uses the higher register of his vocal range.

In terms of composition, ‘In My Head’ probably is the most poppy moment of the record with a extremely simple, but effective hook with the lyrics “I’m gonna get you in my head, in my head, in my head, til I can’t forget”, lead by hand claps and a gospel choir like layering in the vocals. ‘Stand Up’ is a midtempo track that brings all the drama towards the end in a climax with piano, strings and again a choir. Can you imagine how stunning this would sound, performed with a gospel choir and an orchestra? Not everything on Electric Light was made with a ‘the bigger the better’ mindset though. ‘Fade Out’ is a laidback, lightly electronic soul affair with a hypnotic hook in which his vocals shine. The same goes for ‘I Found You’, a stripped back soulful ballad with a full, layered production that never takes away from the straightforward melody.

He shows he can still rock on ‘Just For Tonight’, the type of arena anthem that seems inspired by the likes of Bruce Springsteen. In terms of genre the record might seem all over the place to some, but James Bay deserves credit for not taking the easy route. He experimented, mixed up genres that his fans might not have expected from him in the first place and learned to use his voice in more than one manner. Not every experiment might have worked, but James Bay sure proved he got more than one trick up his sleeve and it will be exciting to see where he goes from here.

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