The judges of The X Factor are constantly on the lookout for a contestant with a unique voice, a real "artist". And whilst James Arthur may be a more distinct performer than most, everything seems to have been thrown at this album in the hopes it will sell.
Using the term 'kitchen sink' to describe the production is an understatement. Stylistically, this is a collision of soul, rock, R&B, dubstep, hip-hop and everything in between; a post Emeli Sandé, post Plan B, post Rudimental sound. It will come as no surprise, then, that Sandé's producer-collaborator Naughty Boy has had a hand in the production, as well as the ubiquitous singer herself cropping up to duet on Roses. Get Down bristles with a trip-hop beat, Lie Down brings a funk twist, the samples of Supposed add an unexpected asian flavour, Suicide has a John Mayer-esque blues feel, and the epic Is This Love? could be a Florence + The Machine track. Yet in total, the result is noisy pop - current single You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You is very much the blueprint (and early highlight) of the album.
The album's problems are only exacerbated by Arthur's overwrought vocal. Like most X Factor contestants, he rose to the top on a sob story wave - a sob story that's imbued into every note, every crack, every warbling melismatic run. This might be acceptable on the odd ballad (as with his winning single Impossible), but across a whole album you can't help but wish he'd lighten up a bit and have some fun.
Sadly, as on Smoke Clouds, Arthur's idea of chilling out involves smoking a "jazz cigarette", which seems somewhat inappropriate for the winner of a family show. It's clear that he's an artist wishing to be taken seriously outside of The X Factor context and his hand in the songwriting process should be commended, but his lyrics lack sophistication. "I'll wear you like a new tattoo", he sings on New Tattoo, whilst his repeated demands to "lie down baby" on Lie Down rival Robin Thicke in the sleazy stakes. And if he's not asking for no-strings sex, he's either in the throws of death ("Don't fabricate, just tell them baby it was suicide" - Suicide), or contemplating it in some twisted Disney film ("Outside there's a bird and it's singing, and outside of my window, there's a life, I feel like someone's talking to my spirit, they tell me that there's reasons to survive" - Get Down).
Cheer up mate, yeah?
* You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You
Listen: 'James Arthur' is available now.