James Blake


If you’ve listened to James Blake’s beautiful new album Assume Form, read any interviews with him recently or looked on any social media about him, you’ll know one thing: James Blake is fully loved up. His relationship with actress and all round hero Jameela Jamil appears to have fundamentally changed Blake’s outlook on life, and with it his music too. Gone is the sprawling, downbeat odyssey of his last LP The Colour In Everything, in are songs with titles like ‘Are You In Love?’ and ‘Can’t Believe The Way We Flow’ alongside lyrics like, “now that you can feel everything, doesn’t it feel more natural?”. That comes from the title track to his new album, appearing to relate to Blake’s struggle with mental health issues (of which he superbly called Pitchfork out on after they referred to him as a ‘sad boy’, have a read of it here), which now, thanks to finding love, seem to be alleviating, allowing him to write the most positive and autobiographical songs of his career.

Indeed, playing ‘Assume Form’ first this evening, the stage lighting changes from moody blues at the start to something akin to a sunrise at the end, the stage bathed in warm oranges, a none too subtle metaphorical allusion to this being a sort of a new dawn in Blake’s life. What we get tonight is an earnest, grateful, humble Blake, and it’s totally endearing throughout, even when some of the tracks from the new album walk a knife edge between charming and cheesy (I’m looking at you, the almost Disney-esque ‘I’ll Come Too’ *side eyes emoji*). When he hits the sweet spot though it’s absolutely stunning, like on the version of ‘Are You In Love?’ where he actually stands front and centre and just sings, accompanied only by the soft strum of an electric guitar, to turn the track into a gorgeous ballad shorn of any embellishment as on the album. To use a hoary old cliche, you can hear a pin drop in this cavernous warehouse as couples around me embrace, captivated by the sincerity of Blake’s infatuation.

It’s not all ballads about his relationship with Jamil though, we still get a bit of old skool Blake bangers more akin to his R&S label days than his latter day singer-songwriter guise. ‘Timeless’ is all sirens and whomp-whomp bass (from the impeccable sound system); ‘Voyeur’ is absolutely thumping, extending to about 8 mins of pure post-dubstep heaven, cowbells and all; and the Andre 3000 featuring ‘Where’s The Catch’ is probably the best thing about the night, despite the non appearance of the OutKast legend (literally no one was expecting him to turn up, let’s be honest), a thrilling piece of dark rap-pop that might take song of the year in my end of year lists already. With all of the technical wizardry on show (he’s accompanied by two musicians, one who when he’s not playing the cello is playing some mental box of lights and wires), it’s easy to forget just how stunning Blake’s voice is, something that is on display throughout the night, crystal clear, but none more so than on ‘Love Me In Whatever Way’ where he builds to a held note that can only be described as ‘fucking wondrous’, all the shivers and feels running through my whole body.

After a couple of crowd pleasers in the form of the still incredible ‘Retrograde’ and ‘The Wilhelm Scream’, the encore treats us to ‘Don’t Miss It’, the hook of which is still being sung by the departing crowd as I walk down the street to get home, a reverent cover of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ (we are technically in Salford after all) and then his pièce de résistance ‘Lullaby For An Insomniac’, which is composed right in front of us by Blake using his voice to build loop upon loop of harmonies for him to sing over, another technically stunning piece of work that highlights just how well this lad can sing. It’s a moving end to a wonderful gig; James Blake is fully loved up and I am totally here for that *heart eyes emoji*

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