James Blake finally releases his first full-length LP. Reading that sentence, one that popped up on just about every music blog worth its weight in peanuts, music critics everywhere started drooling. The minimalist keyboard-loving Blake had been lauded for his series of early EPs and singles. So much so, he was crowned the “prince of dubstep” by fancy critics who have their own offices across the music industry.
Blake’s synthed-over singing bounces above his often quirky synthed-over piano. His voice is just natural enough to avoid the emotionless purely electronic sound. However, he’s no Ray Charles on the piano. However effectively Blake may toy with dramatic pauses and gentle vocals, he still often sounds like a hopeless romantic robot poet. Let me explain.
Blake is ambitious. He shoots for emotional, electronic and naturally balanced, and techno-driven music. Let’s assess these in order. Blake's emotional melodies, many of which are quite beautiful, sound flat against his reverb production. Blake sounds like he should be hunched over in a dark room, writing down deep thoughts with a quill. Instead, he’s autotuning them. As far as balance is concerned, the “prince of dubstep” is too electric, too un-natural to achieve the simple emotion-evoking music that he was aiming for. And as far as dubstep goes, the last minute of I Never Learnt to Share is pretty sweet, but that’s about all there is.
On his debut, James Blake walks a very fine line. On one side, he’s a weak singer-songwriter hiding behind his producing. On the other, he's a revolutionary pop artist, one bringing an old sense of soul into a new medium. Which one he actually is, I really don’t know. However, after watching tons of live performances, I am starting to suspect the latter. Despite my criticisms of his debut, I have faith in this kid. I think he might be the real deal, but his debut just wasn’t that good. Fancy critics sitting in your big offices, give the kid a chance to prove himself before you call him a prince.