Dream on, James Morrison
If you don’t like James Morrison, his new album The Awakening is not the one to change your mind. If you’ve enjoyed his previous albums, like I did, please only listen to the deluxe version of The Awakening. Read on to find out why James’ quiet songs are the best, and what his song “Up” has to do with the anime tv series Ghost in the Shell.
James’ new collection of songs is compelling when his voice gets enough room, and the pop/mainstream add-ons and noise are removed. The deluxe album delivers bits of that purity. It includes acoustic versions of songs with just a guitar and his vocals. This allows his voice to keep its “sense of sincerity”, as the BBC writes. The minimalist version of his songs, where his voice carries the song, is wonderful.
Best song – vocals rule
Best song is James’ acoustic version of “In My Dreams” which is only on the deluxe version and on youtube. Just him and a guitar. It brings out his husky voice, and strips off all the noise that pushes his other songs towards mainstream. Especially the end, when he’s scatting, is perfect! I am hoping for a full acoustic album sometime. [Update March 12, 2010: I just found out that this song is about his father who recently died, and that James Morrison is hoping to meet him again in his dreams. Here are the lyrics and Morrison’s own interpretation.]
Worst song – two don’t become one
Worst is the duet with Jessy J, “Up”. Why the hell does anyone think there is need for a follow-up to the boring Nelly Furtado duet? Duets are only good when they push a song and make it better. “Up” with Jessy J. is not one of them, just a mainstream song that puts together two artists who sing nicely with a lot of fake drama in the background. I’m not sure why the BBC reviewer hears a “warmth to the song [which is] rare amongst Artist A featuring Artist B offerings.” I don’t. Regarding the duet, I’ll go with the harsh Independent reviewer here who claims that “Morrison’s delivery is bland”. [Update: I changed my opinion about Jessy J a bit after looking at some acoustic stuff she’s done.]
One of the good things about going to James live shows is that he will have another vocalist sing the second part of his duets, so live the song can become better than on the album.
Most touching – but not cheesy
“Right by you side”. It nearly made me cry, you can feel the hurt in James’ voice. It’s a very emotional, quiet song which seems inspired by blues/gospel. Thank god they didn’t put strings in this one (I hate the overuse of strings, makes it cheesy).
Best dance number – even if surprise-less
“Beautiful live”. I can see myself dancing to this tune at a concert! Great rhythm! It’s a “save” number, you anticipate the melody before it’s sung. But that doesn’t matter, it makes me jump up from my chair.
Not quite awake yet
What I want to see next is a purely acoustic album. This will bring James Morrison back to his strengths: unique vocals and great songwriting. Remember the lyrics from “Pieces don’t fit anymore” from his debut album Undiscovered? I want to see the pieces coming together for him as an artist in his next album.
I’ve been twisting and turning in a space that’s too small. I’ve been drawing the line and watching it fall. You’ve been closing me in, closing the space in my heart. Watching us fading and watching it all fall apart.
Next: Look out for my upcoming post on why I think James Morrison (or anyone really) should stop singing cheesy duets. When Jack Johnson sings with Eddie Vedder, he adds flavor to his songs. When Joni Mitchell teams up with James Taylor their music melts and becomes magical. But when James sings with shiny female artists he pushes himself towards the mainstream, corny pop category.