JAMES BAY — ELECTRIC LIGHT

Release date: May 18, 2018
Rating: 4.9/5

James Bay got a haircut, and you can hear it on Electric Light.

The follow-up to Bay’s debut 2014 record, Chaos and the Calm, Electric Light is Bay 2.0. Chaos is a very solid compilation, but it listens like pre-haircut Bay: surprisingly interesting, but unable to escape the periphery. Post-haircut, Bay looks like a star, and Electric Light proves that he is. It’s like someone bitch-slapped the hesitation out of him.

Bay, a Brit, ironically blends Springsteen-esque Americana with his traditional more bluesy style and more modern computer generated beats to create an album that truly embraces the feeling of electricity. Every track is inspiring, uplifting, retrospective, and thoughtful.

Remember when you were a kid and you bought the newest Backstreet Boys album and within three days you had all the words memorized? And then fifteen artists you never heard of popped up on your FM dial and within four minutes you knew all the words to those songs, plus the bios of all the artists? And then your mom told you that when you got older you wouldn’t be able to devote that much memory to song lyrics and artists because your brain will fill up with other stuff and you were like “NO NOT ME!!!”

Well, I still remember all the lyrics to Millennium (yes, the album), but, turns out, Ma was right. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve listened to an album and actually felt the desire to learn all the words back to front — Katy Perry’s 2013 Prism was the most recent — but Electric Light is calling to me.

That’s the Americana; this album just begs you to sing, clap, stomp, dance, whatever along. It’s communal.

The album starts off with an incredibly real introduction of a couple talking about the state of their relationship, complete with background traffic noise and an anxiety producing bass drum beat that propels the listener into the first track, “Wasted on Each Other.” In the intro, there’s a female character who asks her male partner why he’s being “weird,” to which he replies with “I don’t know how I feel about…this…us…” After some “awkward silence” which actually consists of more traffic sounds, the woman says “come on, let’s go back.”

The interlude is a mishmash of a revving motorcycle and the woman’s whispered sweet-nothings and concludes with a knock on a door and the man asking “can I…?” “Yeah,” she responds. Then we go to “Just For Tonight.”

It’s the sweet understanding of unconditional love, of understanding someone’s shortcomings and not faulting them for it. It’s real. We’ve all been there on one side or another. Not saying it’s necessarily healthy, but it is genuine.

So many artists try to get to some kind of nugget of truth in their music and fail miserably, and Bay gets there because it doesn’t really seem like he is trying. He’s just singing — expressing himself — and anyone who wants to listen is welcome to. It’s an invitation, not a public address.

So, I invite you to Bay’s coming-of-age: a British boy taking American radio by storm.

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