Why James Blake Is The New Phil Collins

In the 1980s, when your parents were setting light to wodges of £50 notes, hoovering cocaine off ivory dashboards and pushing pastel suit sleeves over their bronzed elbows, what were the fresh sounds blasting out of the Alfa Romeo’s sun-roof? ‘Sussudio’, of course.

Phil Collins was the dwarfish, slapheaded don of the have-it-all generation, his sleek tunes and everyman croak accompanying the kerching of wine bar tills as another mine closed. His impeccable plastic soul struck a chord in the shrivelled hearts of cash-flush bankers, cut a swathe across Middle England and trumped the Yanks at their own gilt-edged game.

We endure darker times. Our jackets are a more sombre shade, sleeves tugged down to touch our gloves; our sun-roof is closed, we don’t even have a full set of alloys. As arts funding is cut to a new hem for the National Theatre’s curtains and a quick polish for the Roundhouse’s letterbox, there is one man encapsulating the joie de vivre of our island’s psyche – the dubstep clown, the showman of glitch, the Barnum of broken beats, Mr James Blake.

For all the weirdness of his melodies, Blake is coated with the kind of sophistication that would’ve appealed to the more broadminded 80s capitalist. His forthcoming debut album is nothing if not tasteful – a description that could’ve applied to Collins before he illustrated the desperate plight of the starving Ethiopian by travelling in top-class splendour from London to Philadelphia to dash off an unwelcome turn with rock plesiosaurs Led Zeppelin; or empathised with the destitute from his pearl-sculpted mansion on Mount Olympus. They might be miles apart ideologically, but Blake and Collins both fit with a certain lifestyle, upwardly mobile and serious.

And what of their emergence? Collins was famous enough with Genesis, sure, before releasing his solo debut ‘Face Value’ in 1981. But the album was such a departure that it was a fresh start and an obvious tilt at the mainstream. Softening prog structures gave way to radio-friendly yet sparse R&B, a dark hollowness behind the state-of-the-art production. Sounds – vaguely – familiar? Think of ‘In The Air Tonight’ in Blake’s hands. It wouldn’t change much, would it?

Now Mount Kimbie are no Genesis – good thing too – and Blake was no permanent member, but he’s still made a palpable shift from the forbidding clicks of his early EPs to a kind of mournful, blue-eyed soul that echoes ‘Face Value’’s studied pathos. Even his radio breakthrough was a cover of Feist’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ which, although it didn’t bring the strained LOLs like cheeky Phil and his gang of clones on ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, at least proved he could match the great man in gender-swapping a song to mass appeal.

Compelling evidence, isn’t it? The only problem is Blake’s height, but the tall poppy crew should take care of that. Oh, and the just-so mop of unruly hair. Nothing a messy divorce won’t sort out. Where’s that fax machine?