The New Classic
It’s tempting to view The X Factor as a blip for James Arthur, rather than his spiritual home.
Despite winning the talent show last year, Arthur has fought shy of being defined by it, pointing instead to his history in four or five rock bands around his local Middlesbrough and declining to record cover versions for this debut album.
His stubbornness is vindicated, as the record is clearly the work of a musician rather than a marionette, a singer-songwriter rather than a karaoke wizard. It’s not perfect – indeed, it is frequently flawed, but the flaws are natural, and are his.
It certainly spreads its musical net far and wide. His post-X Factor Shontelle cover and number one single, Impossible, is included but its slick R&B tropes are far from typical of an album that veers from gritty pop-rock to soulful blues to hip-hop.
Arthur’s natural bent appears to be towards husky, maudlin blues, as heard on recent hit You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You, a lament raw enough to appeal to fans of Robert Plant, and also on Lie Down. Better still is Smoke Clouds, a paean to getting stoned and “jazz cigarettes”, where he growls that he is “trading blues for green”.
The ubiquitous Emeli Sandé wafts in to duet on skyscraping ballad Roses, and the closing, Plan B-like Flyin’, produced by Naughty Boy, even embraces rap. James Arthur is still finding his way, but his baby steps are all his own.