Is it that time of year again? Oh, who are we kidding, we love it – hell, this time last year we were kicking off PressPLAY with a review of Little Mix’s DNA (arguably the best X-Factor winner’s album ever). And while the also-rans of the past are making a right bloody try-hard mess to get noticed, last year’s winner James Arthur has dropped his self-titled debut album in time for us to decide whether voting for Tamera will actually do any good.
Short answer? Surprisingly it does. Cowell & co are on to their second consecutively impressive X-Factor debut; it’s a shame that the lead single and laborious mouthful You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody loves you didn’t quite make it to number one (beaten by – eye roll – Lorde), as it really is quite the corking bit of northern soul and a high benchmark for the rest of the album.
It’s a standard generally met throughout; New Tattoo has that slow soul, doo-wop vibe that mercifully foregoes the Ronsonisation that made John Newman’s album such a chore. Dropping the brass and over-orchestration does wonders for Arthur – barring that flaccid Shontelle cover, it shies away from melodrama. In terms of production, we’re avoiding Plan B comparisons and wandering into near-Timberlake standards on a song like Lie Down, which is no faint praise indeed.
Arthur can certainly work a ballad too – Recovery and Suicide are excellent for what they are, the latter in particular a perfectly-judged tale of darkness. It just about forgives the passable Emeli Sande duet, Roses, which will completely ruin the word ‘bang’ for you. And we’d prefer it if the ultra-obvious Is This Love weren’t the next single.
Despite James Arthur being an album of quality, it still feels like there might be some sort of invisible ceiling to stop him going international like his immediate predecessors. Perhaps it’s the fatigue we now have from that relentlessly pained male vocal (Arthur could do with reining that in, as it’s not too far off the wail of constipation), or just the hope that he has a little bit more fun next time. Either way, we can be thankful for one thing: at least it’s not an album full of Jahmene.