James Blake‘s third studio album, The Colour In Anything, came on the heels of the ending of a two and a half year long relationship with someone I was planning on eventually having big headed kids running around with. The stinging pain that came along with that wasn’t something that I was in any way prepared for. I’d heard of James before and knew he was one of the resident kings of feels, but never bothered listening.
As I was on a bus with all my worldly possessions in two bags heading back to Virginia to regroup, the group chat rang off and said that he had released a new album. Now, while I much rather had listened to Lemonade and [fraudulently] claim “I ain’t thinkin’ bout you.” I decided to give it a listen once I got to Mom’s crib.
Since pressing play on ‘The Colour In Anything,’ I’ve run through the full gamut of emotions, and James’ album, while not a complete mirror of my feelings, echoed many of the same sentiments I felt during the different phases of coping with the dramatic ending of my relationship.
The Colour In Anything opens up with “Radio Silence.” Soft keys build into winding hi-hats and poignant snares. “I can’t believe this, you don’t wanna see me/ We lived in love with each other so long.” James illustrates the astonishment that is felt following the ending of a relationship. It doesn’t matter how a relationship ended or how long it’s built up, going from constant communication to being completely cut off can bewilder the most logical person.
The next track, “Points,” taps into one of the most minute details of an ended relationship; those triumphant moments when in the midst of victory, you realize who you’d usually share that with is no longer present. The sadness is undercut by the desperation of “Love Me In Whatever Way.” Now, while I can’t rock with James on the specifics of his lyrics, the desperation of wanting to regain love that has been lost is universal.
I took a break and started back listening on the way to the club. My friend was trying to take my mind off of everything and I went along with it. While the metronome of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” was playing through the speakers, I was in the corner with my headphones in listening to “f.o.r.e.v.e.r.” I was on my fourth Henny punch and my face was too numb to realize some fool was invading my personal space by running their fingers through my beard. The somber keys played as a single tear rolled down my cheek like I was Denzel Washington in Glory.
Throughout the album, Blake relies heavily on repetition when it comes to his lyrics. The echoes behind each repeated line helps to create a ghost-like effect. It’s evident that he’s trying to hammer away certain points. In “I Hope My Life (1-800 Mix),” he constantly repeats pretty much every line. “Maybe I’ll just press my hands on it” and “Haven’t We All” drives home the main message of hoping the your experiences aren’t all there is to life.
“Waves Know Shores” is probably one of, if not the most lyrically intriguing songs on the album even though it is the shortest. The theme of knowing someone like “Waves Know Shores” implies constant learning and a connection you’re bound to, but also temporary and fleeting; knowing but not committing.
“My Willing Heart” is co-written by Frank Ocean and goes hand in hand with the track that follows, “Choose Me.” The cautious nature and fragility of not being sure of Love after heartbreak leads into the desperation of when the love is finally found, wanting it to be mutual; not forcing anything. Being cross-faded isn’t the best way to go into these two tracks, but it does certainly help with introspection. The rushed, one-sided feeling I experienced all throughout my relationship became instantly apparent through the weaving of these words. Blame wasn’t on the agenda, it was my moment of clarity. I allowed pretty much every event that led up to it.
It’s now 4 am. My mama told me the night before I gotta get up to go to church at 10 am, but I’m too busy listening to an album that has my stomach in knots while sipping honey jack and cranberry.
“I Need A Forest Fire” which featured Bon Iver fucked me up the most because it reiterated things I said in the relationship that were repeated to me in the end, like some new revelation. The imagery of burning everything that exists in order to start anew because what was there was insufficient hit me in ways I couldn’t have predicted. Took me 3 tries to get through it.
There were some lulls like with “Noise Above Our Heads” and “Two Men Down” that seemed more like filler than anything else, but by far, James put his heart in this album.
The title track and “Modern Soul” should have been placed right after the other. They both speak to the realities one faces when a relationship is coming to an end. When you no longer see “The Colour In Anything” and want something to be over, but don’t have the courage to end it. These hit too close to home. Although my hope always remained, I couldn’t see it lasting long in the state it was in and the daily heartbreak that brought on for a long time was echoed in the lyrics.
The last two tracks speak of optimism and the long-lasting effects of the heartbreak he’s experienced. “Always,” also co-written by Frank Ocean, is where, by the grace of God and an emerging love of dark liquor, I’ve been brought; not letting the bite of heartbreak turn your rose-colored glasses into xan-tinted shades. By the time the acapella ballad “Meet You in the Maze” is over, you’ll understand the thought of “if it’s for you, it’s for you.”
The arrangements in James’ songs seem to be purposeful in that they’re very nostalgic and not necessarily “heart-wrenching” on their own, but the lyrics are. The emotional upheaval one goes through in the midst of heartbreak doesn’t make sense. The feelings are often conflicting and the combination of Blake’s soothing layered voice, the soothing keys and metallic sounds, the multiple hi-hats with muted snares and drums, the strategic use of autotune; all these things contribute to the diversity of the album’s sound. The instrumentation, though, while important, is less key than the lyrical content. Like I mentioned, James repeats lines over and over for a reason. It’s like a chant, he wants the meaning of the words to penetrate you. If you’re looking to bop, this ain’t an album for you.
The Colour in Anything allowed me to confront the feelings that I wasn’t addressing and to bring them front and center to deal with them. Two weeks later, and I’m in a better place.
I’m showering daily again, drinking only in social settings and honoring my pain rather than muting it. Listening to this album has been a growing experience. Being in love is lit as fuck but that’s only because it can be painful as fuck. I’m still in love, probably will be for a while. I’d still do any and everything for him, still give my last, still would take a bullet, still heartbroken, still kinda sorta believe that we’re soulmates and this is just a major bump in the road but thanks to James’ lyrics, introspection and a praying mother, I’m becoming more accepting of this simply being over. I know these very painful feelings are subsiding more and more everyday.
I know you can’t love someone who doesn’t know what love is. I know you can’t love someone who doesn’t want to be loved. I can’t stress the importance of open, honest communication. Letting go of the possibility of reconciliation has been the most powerful tool because it keeps me from standing still. I put every bit of me into the relationship, and the return wasn’t there. I beat myself up for not being enough or not doing enough but after mulling over it day and night, having talks with myself and piecing it together with the last one I had with my former significant other, I’m good.
James reached into the recesses of his mind and pulled out feelings he probably didn’t want to feel. The synergy is palpable when art and real life pain meet. I don’t know what it is about English singers tapping into the fountain of pain and shit, but they need more Migos in their life.