Are the Brits “critics” so intent on trying to make “guitar music” a thing? Is that why he won the award?
Because really, James Bay is nothing but an average acoustic troubadour. He’s the annoying guy at a music festival who insists on wearing a hipster hat, refuses to wash his hair for weeks and sings tired love songs around a campfire at 5am whilst you’re trying to sleep after coming down from the euphoric highs of the dance stage.
He’s a walking cliché.
So, too, is his music. ‘Chaos And The Calm’ is an amalgam of every other acoustic songwriter you’ve ever heard, fusing together bits of rock, folk and blues in one easy-listening package that quickly grates on the ears. Throw in a hefty dose of Coldplay, Passenger, Damien Rice and John Mayer specifically and you’ve created yourself the Frankenstein monstrosity that is James Bay.
To be fair, Bay does have talent: there’s power to his raw vocals, accompanied by some nifty fingerpicking. It leads to some moments where he does manage to rise above mediocrity. Current single Hold Back The River proves there is some radio appeal, although Let It Go is the real early-album highlight – gently lilting guitar beneath a yearning melody of genuine emotion. Collide is also a rare moment of upbeat excitement, all handclaps and bluesy guitars. At the least, the full band arrangements are more interesting than the usual “intimate” song settings.
Yet Bay falls short with his songwriting. There are few hooks, few intriguing or poetic lyrics. Instead it’s fifteen identical songs of utter, personality-less blandness. It’s no wonder he’s essentially known as “that one with the hat”. Nothing else differentiates him from his peers. Nothing else about him stands out at all. It’s a shame that his talent has been stretched into such an underwhelming collection of songs.
So I ask again, why did he win the Brits Critics Choice Award? And above Years and Years?
Last year’s winner was a boring guy with a piano and a silly haircut. Now we have a boring guy with a guitar and a silly hat. What could be next?
* Hold Back The River
* Let It Go
Listen: ‘Chaos And The Calm’ is available now.