Although not perfect, James Arthur's recent album is a welcome offering to the pop scene.
Upon its first listen, James Arthur’s latest offering, Back From The Edge, isn’t anything special. However, on my second listen of it, I realised that it’s actually pretty great, and is certainly the redemption he needed in his comeback.
The album opens with its title track, which sounds like an attempt to recreate the Plan B of the Defamation of Strickland Banks era, and although his attempt doesn’t quite mark up, he does do what Plan B was always so great at doing; he begins to tell a story. A story that’s dark and complex, as he says, “I’ve been burning in hell, now I’m back with my own story in tell”, and this is something that he captures so well throughout the whole album.
From the simple but touching love story that he tells in the no.1 single, ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ and similarly in ‘Can I Be Him’, to the pleading desperation of ‘Train Wreck’ and ‘Phoenix’ and the touching note to his parents in ‘Finally’, Arthur is masterful in the art of narrative, and creating stories that are so much more than a snapshot of one single moment. His lyrics really do something powerful, and it is when I actually took the time to listen to the words he had to share that I found my appreciation for the album.
There really is a sense that this man has been on a journey which has taken him to some dark places, and his response to this has been to chronicle it through music. The lyrics of some of these songs really are moving; the chorus of ‘Train Wreck’ really made me think: “Unbreak the broken/ Unsay these spoken words/ Find hope in the hopeless/ Pull me out the train wreck/ Unburn the ashes/ Unchain the reactions/ I’m not ready to die not yet/ Pull me out the train wreck.”
As well as his songs being lyrically strong, it helps that Arthur has such a distinctive voice, making his otherwise generic sounding music more unique than it would have been. His tone matches his words; it has a raw quality about it that makes it pleasant to listen to, but also gets across the emotion that he tries to deliver. I always did like his voice, and I’m very glad that he is singing songs that suit it well, instead of being engineered and shaped like most X Factor alumni are.
Admittedly, the album isn’t perfect, and at times it can have the tendency of being like many other pop albums in the sense that it all just blurs into one. It’s clear to see influence from other artists from over the years, and when it comes to imitation, he doesn’t quite have it down. However, when he does what he does best and owns that, it is a promising look to his future career.
Overall, this album just makes me rather grateful that he walked away from Simon Cowell and decided to forge his own path.
Back From The Edge is out now via Sony Music.