Recommend if you like: Top 40 radio stations, any song you’ve seen sung by a 15-year-old girl with an acoustic guitar
Expectation: X-Factor winner James Arthur’s sophomore album, following his departure from Simon Cowell’s Syco label and signing to Columbia.
- Back From the Edge – Exactly the kind of huge pop ballad you would expect from an X-Factor winner, entrusting the entire appeal of the song to Arthur’s vocal performance. Catchy and impressive, but far from unique.
- Say You Won’t Let Go – Arthur does his best Ed Sheeran impression, resulting in another sweet, catchy, and utterly generic track.
- Prisoner – While seeming to draw inspiration primarily from late 00’s pop, the melody and subject matter would have fit right in on a My Chemical Romance album (Trust me, once you imagine Gerard Way singing the hook the resemblance cannot be un-heard). The rapping was better than I would have expected though.
- Can I Be Him – This album genuinely makes me wish that I’d followed pop radio more closely 5 or 6 years ago, because every part of this track sounds so familiar but I can’t recall an example.
- I Am – If you’re going to make the hook take up 70% of the song, please make it longer than 4 words.
- Train Wreck – How no one noticed they started back-to-back songs with a lone, ringing piano chord is beyond me.
- Sober – Arthur detours into R&B, producing one of the catchier tracks on the album.
- Finally – By this point in the album, quieter songs performed on acoustic guitars are a welcome break from huge, piano-driven ballads. Unfortunately, this track only pretends to be a softer, more intimate performance for the first 3/4 of the duration, before suddenly and entirely unnecessarily turning into another huge piano ballad.
- If Only – The emo influences return, along with another rap verse. Why does he only use these completely unrelated elements as a pair? Your guess is as good as mine.
Overall: Back From the Edge should be better. James Arthur has a great voice, the production is full and polished, and the melodies draw influence from a wide range of genres, from gospel to emo to R&B. Unfortunately, the album’s sound is homogenized to the point that the album becomes difficult to listen to; not because the songs aren’t fine by themselves, but because they so thoroughly fail to grab the listener’s attention in any way that you can practically forget that music is playing. Arthur’s lyrics revolve around one-n0te, surface deep metaphors expressed in irritatingly vague terms, and nearly every song sounds like he’s still trying to impress the judges on the X-Factor. Arthur’s greatest strength (his ability to screlt his face off) is over-utilized until it becomes a detriment to his songs, as by the last few tracks I was seriously tempted to press skip the moment I heard him getting ready to use his “win the singing contest” voice. At 17 tracks and over an hour in length, I can only assume that James Arthur had no idea how to write a pop song for 2016 and decided to simply put out as many songs as he could get away with and hope that one took off.