Thanks to his 2012 win on The X Factor, James Arthur has had one hell of a year with numerous live dates, TV appearences, and even two single releases, including the winner’s single (a cover of Shontelle’s ‘Impossible’) which reached number one in the charts and has sold over a million copies.
As with any talent competition winner, there is always the risk that their debut album, thanks to heavy influence from their restricting contract, will be an overly produced, manufactured effort, void of any personal influence from the actual artist. Thankfully, that is not the case here. Whilst every track is co-written by one or more people in addition to James Arthur, each song still sounds heartfelt and personal.
The album opens with the second and most recent single, ‘You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You’. Charting at number two, this track is the anthem of the album with loud, soulful vocals – certainly the obvious single choice. Arthur, on Capital Radio earlier this year, referred to the song as “one of those big, uplifting anthemic tunes – the rest of the album is quite diverse.” Diverse is a good choice of word, with the remainder of the album housing different sounds borrowed from various genres whilst Arthur’s unique vocals keep the album sounding unmistakably his own. The second track ‘Get Down’ sounds rather gospel-esque (possible influences from X Factor runner up Jahméne Douglas), ‘New Tattoo’ sounds heavy, rough and quite rocky, and ‘Smoke Clouds’ and ‘Flyin’, showcase Arthur’s rapping abilities that, whilst not up to the standards of Eminem (who beat James Arthur to the number one album spot this week), aren’t all that bad.
‘Impossible’ (below), the fourth track on the album and initial single, whilst demonstrating his talents, is arguably one of the weaker tracks on the album. Despite putting his own sound into the song, it is obvious that this song is a cover and much better efforts are clear over the duration of the album.
‘Suicide’ is a real showcase of Arthur’s vocal abilities, with the singer hitting and stretching high notes with ease. Passion within his work is evident throughout the whole album, but the effort put into his vocal works in this track make it all that much clearer.
Many lyrics seem to speak of the difficult times Arthur encountered prior to The X Factor, including homelessness, foster care and family issues. Words in ‘New Tattoo’ (“before today I didn’t know if I’d make it”) and ‘Smoke Clouds’ (“I don’t trust anyone”) give the album a depth of honesty and brutality that can often not be found in TV-manufactured albums such as this, setting Arthur apart from the seasons of winners before him.
It’s hardly been a secret that Arthur’s tastes aren’t quite as main stream as his X Factor fame would suggest, even openly admitting to not watching this year’s edition of the show. This album is certainly a departure from the typical X Factor production, with a considerably darker and more emotional feel than is typically found from the ITV productions. As well as that, this album homes more than enough counts of ‘fuck’s and ‘fucking’ – now what’s less ITV prime time than a few swear words?
Overall, this album really is a fantastic effort; the talent and diversity found in James Arthur’s vocal work prove that he was certainly a worthy winner. Guest vocals from Emeli Sandé and Chasing Grace make the album all that much sweeter, with both of these vocals pairing beautifully with Arthur’s. If this is the first offering to the music business from the 25 year old, it has to be wondered what lengths his voice will take him to – we’re looking forward to what talents he can produce in the future after such an impressive first attempt.
Catch James at dates across the UK next January, including a sold out show at London’s Hammersmith Apollo (January 15). Full list of dates and tickets here.
‘James Arthur‘ is out now.
Review by Sophie Weller