James Bay – Chaos and the Calm
In an Evening Standard interview earlier this year, James Bay said: “A progression with guitar-based music is greatly needed. It’s been there in the past in healthy portions but it’s been away for a little while.” Really? No one seems to have told the fans of Royal Blood and Ed Sheeran, nor the industry insiders who voted Bay to win both the Critics’ Choice category at the Brit Awards and the BBC Sound Of 2015 title, before he’d even released his debut album. But perhaps Bay sees himself as a genuine alternative to the George Ezras and Mumfords already out there; maybe he really is trying to do something new.
If that’s the case, then he may have to try a bit harder than he has for Chaos and the Calm. The album is full of solid, mid-tempo guitar-pop tunes, delivered with a voice whose husky edge belies Bay’s 24 years. But there’s precious little that stays with the listener once the record stops. When We Were on Fire has a pleasingly funky bassline, and Best Fake Smile has a winning hint of aggression to it, but much of the album smacks of unrealised potential. Bay clearly knows how to write a song, but the ones here are so frustratingly drenched in major label gloss – in this case, courtesy of the mighty Warner Brothers – that anything approaching genuine fire is quelled before it even has a chance to get going. Bay may well have a fantastic rock album in him, but he needs more time to develop his craft and consider what direction he wants to go in.
This record, however, will inevitably sell bucket-loads. Bay and Warner Brothers may be uninspired, but they’re not stupid. The collection is festival-ready, mum-friendly, would comfortably fit in on both youth-oriented Radio 1 and 40-something-led Radio 2, and is sung by a photogenic young man with fantastic cheekbones. It’s a tried-and-tested formula, and it’s one unlikely to fail any time soon. Bay has said that The Rolling Stones are his biggest heroes, but this album comes off as closer to Coldplay. Chances are, listeners will have already decided if it’s for them, or not.
Chaos And the Calm was released on 23rd March 2015, for further information visit here.
Watch the video for Hold Back the River here: