Superimposed on his minimalist production, James Blake struggles with his insecurities on the timidly optimistic ‘Funeral’. “I feel invisible in every city,” he remarks about this familiar feeling. “Don’t give up on me,” he pleads before promising, “I’ll be the best I can be”. It is this journey through self-doubt that underpins his fifth studio album, one that ultimately seeks to celebrate the self, regardless of greater influence. It’s a mantra that reaches its appropriately melancholy climax on the painfully retrospective title track. “In the end it was friends who broke my heart,” he says in his clear tone.
Yet there is freedom in James’ realizations unfolding on a record that simultaneously expands his delicate production and sees him fully embracing his singer-songwriter alter ego. The SZA feature ‘Coming Back’ is next to ‘Frozen’ his safest foray into new genres. The last part of the album raises his vocal performance, as always, paired with well-considered electronic flourishes. ‘Show Me’ with Monica Martin is one of his most beautiful works to date. His tonal changes are as delicate as his music and continue to demonstrate his ability to blur styles with unprecedented precision.
It offers him the space to face these uncertainties. The telling title “When I’m Insecure” finds salvation in love. It lands on both resignation and acceptance that it’s okay to be lost and found at the same time. This blissful resignation runs through ‘Friends That Break Your Heart’. “I know I’m going to be replaced,” he complains midway through the album before cementing the album’s driving force. “I did my best,” he assures, “what else can I do?”.