That difficult second album is always one that separates a singer from an artist; high expectations can either produce a follow-up which goes down quicker than the Titanic, or venture up the scale, allowing the artist to pull off a career-affirming addition to his/her discography. Unfortunately, James Blake’s sequel to his 2011 self-titled effort sits somewhere nearer the middle of the order.
Whereas his debut heralded an amass of critical acclaim, fusing voice-manipulation with abruptly disjointed beats, Blake’s follow-up has tried (and in parts, failed) to make a success of his abilities as a vocalist and push the digitalised beats to the background.
‘Take A Fall For Me’, whilst a brilliant collaboration with RZA, feels like it would’ve felt more at home on the Wu Tang rapper’s own efforts, with Blake’s vocals hardly adding any huge substance. Lead single ‘Retrograde’, however, is a pure 10/10, allowing both vocals and beats to equally share audio pleasure. More forgettable moments come in the form of ‘To The Last’ and ‘Our Love Comes Back’, offering the listener very little value.
It isn’t that it’s a bad album, far from it – Blake has clearly gone through some hurt and pain to make this, however at times you could be fooled into thinking you were listening to a continuous track, often showing limited amounts of differentiation.
Nevertheless, Overgrown’s strength allows the sense of letting your cares drift away into your subconscious whilst that horrible presentation you’ve been working on that’s due in 2 hours suddenly doesn’t seem that bad. The album’s sultry hedonism will float you away from ‘first world problems’.
Had there been a base of zero for ‘Overgrown’ to go off, then this would be an accomplished album; as a follow-up to an acclaimed debut however, it feels we’ve lost some of that ‘Blake’ that made us sit up and listen in the first place.