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Album review: Electric Light - James Bay

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Debuting new hair with his new album, James Bay has made a comeback with Electric Light.

After the chart-topping success of his debut album Chaos and the Calm, the hit single ‘Hold Back the River’ peaking at number 2 and picking up a Brit Award for Best British Male Solo Artist, there were high expectations. 

The album flows chronologically; the tracks take us on a journey of a relationship coming to an end, from the realisation that they’re ‘Wasted On Each Other’ to it ‘Fading Out’. The scene-setting short tracks ‘Intro’ and ‘Interlude’ feature Bay saying that he’s not sure how to feel about "this…us", while the female voice initially tries to hold on to it. ‘Interlude’ suggests that things have changed between them. 

Electric Light is rich with genre and sound experimentation, unlike Chaos and The Calm. ‘Wasted On Each Other’, ‘Sugar Drunk High’ and ‘Just For Tonight’ feature striking blues-rock distorted electric guitar riffs, which are enriched by Bay’s soulful vocals. The tone of frustration about where the relationship is going are portrayed through the conflicting lyrics of Wasted On Each Other, "Stop acting like everything’s understood, I know you miss me too" and "Every time we try to fight it we just end up wasted, wasted on each other". The popular single, ‘Pink Lemonade’ demonstrates a classic indie rock style. Despite this, Bay still doesn’t move away from his infectious ‘sing along’ choruses, especially evident in ‘In My Head’. The end of the album showcases upbeat soft rock tracks, ‘Fading Out’ and ‘Wanderlust’, as the singer contemplates the end of the relationship but can’t let go. The lyrics of Wanderlust are poignant, "my pocket’s filled of someone else’s cigarette and I don’t even smoke", "Come on over and mend my heart", with a catchy chorus repetition of "I didn’t wanna be here, I didn’t wanna be here without you". The style of 'Wanderlust' is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac in its guitar hooks. The final song, ‘Slide’ arguably best showcases Bay; his emotional vocals are paired with slow piano chord progressions, creating the sombre acceptance depicted in the lyrics, "In disguise, we get a little better at controlling ourselves around midnight", "and we slide into the arms of someone else". The tracks therefore symbolise the emotional movement from frustration in ‘Wasted on You’, to wanting to hold on in ‘Just For Tonight’, to accepting that the relationship has ended in ‘Slide’. 

The album is exciting in its versatility and undoubtedly showcases Bay’s talent lyrically and musically; the use of the tracks to portray the movement of the relationship is clever. Despite this, the excessive variation in style does create confusion. For example, the use of autotune, particularly in ‘Wild Love’ and ‘Stand Up’ arguably undermine Bay’s vocals, especially in comparison to the rawness of ‘Slide’. ‘Slide’ appears to be a more natural style whereas ‘Wild Love’ and ‘Stand Up’ seem somewhat forced. Overall, Electric Light shows a lot of promise and is a skilfully constructed album, but the fusion of so many styles doesn’t necessarily work throughout.

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