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James Bay - Leap (Album Review)

Thursday, 07 July 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Julia Broad

Regardless of the record’s commercial success, with the benefit of hindsight James Bay’s ‘Electric Light’ was clearly the sound of a young artist in crisis. But if that difficult second album represented something of a stylistic stumble, ‘Leap’ is the work of a musician who has absorbed those lessons, remembered who he is and re-emerged with a jukebox of potential hit singles. And all it took was a little extra-curricular reading.

Despite the huge acclaim that befell 2014’s ‘The Chaos And The Calm,’ Bay’s life was anything but unbridled happiness once his debut made him a star. Deep-seated feelings of insecurity and worthlessness multiplied, leading to a faceless, calculated and ill-fitting follow up that haphazardly mashed together pop, funk, disco and soul.

Throwing everything into the melting pot except a distinct identity, the Hitchin born singer buried his anxieties beneath a slick new image and garishly overproduced sound that, by his own admission, left him feeling lost.

But during lockdown, Bay found much needed direction when he stumbled across Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and was immediately struck by a galvanising quote from American essayist John Burroughs:  “Leap, and the net will appear.”  

Dropping the self conscious tough guy act to embrace vulnerability, ‘Leap’ honours everyone who’s shaped his journey in a way that’s sentimental without ignoring hardships or descending too far into saccharine stickiness, offering a confident, consistent and stylistically natural successor to his debut. 

On the chiming delicacy of Better and One Life’s surging devotion Bay wades through the rough and tumble of relationships to cherish his own raison d’etre. With such visceral feelings driving these songs, it’s both appropriate and a pleasure to hear his emotive and expressive voice taking centre stage in the mix after it was overly treated and somewhat suffocated last time out.  

Combining James Morrison’s raspy soulfulness with a little of Eric Martin’s (Mr Big) bluesy grit, he turns in award winning vocal performances galore on everything from the impassioned Give Me A Reason and effortlessly romantic Nowhere Left To Run to percussively peppy dancefloor filler Love Don’t Hate Me and Silent Love, a heartbreaking tale about not being able to talk to that special someone. 

Seamlessly flowing between uplifting festival bangers such as Endless Summer Nights and heartfelt cuts, such as tender Finneas co-write Save Your Love, this is a wonderfully paced, tastefully pared back record that predominantly recalls the early noughties indie arena anthems of a Snow Patrol or Embrace, albeit shot through with shimmering contemporary pop vibrancy, a light peppering of versatile stylistic flourishes and, on the roof-raising Everyone Needs Someone, a strong gospel choir to really sell its rousing emotional power.  

If his previous record left us wondering who, exactly, James Bay was, ‘Leap’ provides an answer:  he’s an empathetic soul with a big heart and, crucially, a talented musician who, when he remains true to himself, can craft commercially accessible, soulful songs with something of value to say.

James Bay Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon July 18 2022 - BRIGHTON Brighton Chalk
Sat September 17 2022 - PERRANPORTH Watering Hole
Sun November 20 2022 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth
Mon November 21 2022 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Wed November 23 2022 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE NX
Thu November 24 2022 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy
Fri November 25 2022 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Sun November 27 2022 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Tue November 29 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Thu December 01 2022 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Fri December 02 2022 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sat December 03 2022 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol

Compare & Buy James Bay Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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