To be brutally honest right off the bat, unlike his massive critical appraise, I’ve never once been a fan of James Blake except for on “Forward” from Beyoncé’s Lemonade. If anything, I think his work has been a steady step down from his self-titled debut record back in 2011. If you ask me, James Blake sounds like he was trapped in a box for 10 years and is just dealing with all that now. It’s like if Bon Iver listened to Imogen Heap for a year, got really into sporadic digital drums and click-like sounds, and then got his heart broken by “Emma” again. It’s like if Sam Smith hung out alone in a bunker with Thom Yorke while the world froze over.
James Blake is hauntingly depressing, is what I’m getting at, but it’s also very overbearing, like Sufan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell, a record he put out last year about his deceased parents that was so fore-fronted in its pain and lyrical content that it was hard to listen to seriously. From what I can gather lyrically, it sounds like James Blake is dealing with the loss of a relationship and doesn’t like the world around him anymore. To mention the album title, it seems like he’s grasping for something in his past that he can’t have again, and its loss, probably a relationship, has made it so that he can’t find “the color in anything” anymore, like the joy has been wiped out of him.
A lot of this record, The Colour in Anything, reminds me of the song “I Never Learnt to Share,” from Blake’s first record. Much like “Woods” by Bon Iver, “I Never Learnt to Share” is a vocal build-up where Blake laments over how his siblings don’t speak to him anymore, but that he doesn’t blame them for it, a line repeated over and over again until I don’t even want to hear it anymore. Opening track “Radio Silence” holds a lot of the same excruciatingly monotonous repetition of phrases, and it’s a motif that lasts throughout the entire record as well. The most hype the record gets is on “I Hope My Life,” but how many times can I hear the line “maybe I’ll just press my hands on it” before it loses all its deep “I’ll pray on it” qualities and just becomes cringe worthy.
Even the “happiest” track, “Always,” sounds downright depressing and disoriented. A key word to use in my description of this record I think would be “disoriented.” The Colour in Anything has a lot of similarities to themes presented in Radiohead’s recent record, A Moon Shaped Pool, but here it’s warped and delivered to us in such an unpleasing way sonically and lyrically that by the time it’s over I haven’t not only connected with the material personally, but am actually more concerned with James Blake’s well being than anything else. Especially with no uplifting ending track like A Moon Shaped Pool‘s “True Love Waits,” The Colour in Anything ends with “Meet You in the Maze,” maybe the most devastating of all 17 tracks on the album.
A record that makes me personally cringe more than cry, The Colour in Anything is less of a “wonderfully messy dive into maximalism,” as some might call it, and more like just a “messy dive.” It’s one of those dives where the Olympian turns too much on the flip and hits the water face first. It’s not anything you can sympathize with beyond phantom pain.