James Blake – ‘The Colour In Anything’ Review

It’s ridiculously long, but James Blake’s third album is thrillingly intimate and detailed, and features contributions from Frank Ocean, Bon Iver and Rick Rubin

Though it’s a coincidence that James Blake‘s third album arrives right after his guest spot on Beyoncé‘s ‘Lemonade’, the proximity highlights how far this Londoner with a laptop has come. Bey isn’t the only A-lister 27-year-old Blake has been collaborating with: Kanye West was initially slated to appear on ‘The Colour In Anything’ and Frank Ocean, Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon and super-producer Rick Rubin have all contributed.

At 76 minutes, ‘The Colour In Anything’ is around twice as long as Blake’s previous albums: 2010’s self-titled debut and 2013’s Mercury Prize-winning follow-up ‘Overgrown’. That’s obviously a lot to process, but Blake takes enough fresh detours to prevent it from becoming a slog. Mournful piano chords and sparse electronic beats remain his sound’s bedrock, but Blake’s vocals are more soulfully prominent now and his production feels more detailed. ‘Put That Away And Talk To Me’ is a fuggy lullaby inspired by Blake’s brief reliance on weed, ‘Modern Soul’ has a beat that sounds like drum-and-bass recorded underwater, and ‘Always’, co-written by Ocean, heightens dreamy R&B with a gospel-like breakdown. The piercing synths of ‘I Hope My Life’ are startling even before you spot the bassline’s resemblance to Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’.

Blake hasn’t just reached further, he’s also dug deeper. ‘The Colour In Anything’ is a thrillingly intimate album that finds him grappling with self-doubt (‘I Hope My Life’), various relationship troubles (‘Radio Silence’, ‘f.o.r.e.v.e.r.’) and the confusion of falling in love (‘My Willing Heart’). There’s also an overriding sense of optimism. “I suggest you love like love’s no loss,” Blake sings on ‘Waves Know Shores’. Justin Vernon’s vocals compliment Blake’s on the glorious ‘I Need A Forest Fire’, but it’s probably for the best that Kanye West never sent in his rap for ‘Timeless’. Yeezy’s brash bombast could easily have felt jarring here.

The album’s final track ‘Meet You In The Maze’ features its most intriguing refrain. “Music can’t be everything,” Blake sings a cappella, his voice a heavily vocodered drone. Is he telling us he’s become less obsessive when making his music? If so, it suits him, because ‘The Colour In Anything’ features Blake’s richest and most emotionally resonant work yet.