He is only half joking when he calls YOU his grown-up album. The 17-song epic finds the global star at both his boldest and most promiscuous, with hard-hitting lyrics, a restless rifle through musical styles and the searing vocals of someone with plenty to get off their chest.
From the retro hip hop of the single ‘Treehouse’ (featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Shooty Horroh) to the hymnal folk of ‘Fall’, from the soul-rock belter ‘From Me To You’ to the jazzy ‘Breathe’ and the furious title track, YOU is a spectacular statement of intent from one of pop’s most versatile performers.
Listen to the album here: smarturl.it/jaarthurYOU
The singer turned 30 during YOU’s gestation and rather than the expected bout of soul searching, the landmark birthday left him liberated. “I stopped caring what other people thought,” he says. “I looked back at what I’d achieved and realized that I don’t need to compete anymore. 30 isn’t old by any means, but it’s not an age to be chasing trends. I know the music I want to make. I’m not trying to be anyone else.”
Another unexpected consequence of turning 30, or perhaps of looking back, was a desire to return to the free-spirited way in which he made music as a teen. “I definitely tapped in to my 17 year old self,” says James. “I got back on my acoustic guitar, on my own, which I hadn’t done a while. It wasn’t about trying to write a hit. It was about having something to say. And – here’s the grown-up part – for the first time in my life, I stopped looking inwards and started looking out, at other people’s relationships and how my behavior in the past might have affected those around me. That forced me to use my imagination.”
YOU’s empowering, freedom-fighting title track, boasts a guest rap from Blink-182’s Travis Barker. “We share management in the States, we’re fans of each other and he loved the song. He recorded his part the day after I asked, fresh from his Halsey collaboration. The song is dedicated to ordinary people doing extraordinary things, partly inspired by my sisters and partly by a Puerto Rican kid I box with, who has been through a lot. But I read stories every day that YOU could refer to. Everyone does.”
Upcoming single ‘Quite Miss Home’ is another important song on the record, a stately, strings-accompanied track that is sure to be huge hit with his fans. James says: “This song is inspired by being away from home a lot and the little nuances that make home what it is to me and other people I observe in my life. My sister’s fiancé works away a lot of the year and she misses him like crazy! However her OCD for cleaning still makes sure he takes his shoes off at the door, that’s when he knows he’s home.”
Other stand out tracks include the Eg White (Adele, Sam Smith) co-penned ‘If We Can Get Through This We Can Get Through Anything’, about the difficulties of long-term relationships, and the stunning piano ballad
‘Maybe’, written with James’ best friend Jamie Grey, with whom he grew up playing in rock bands, and produced by the Brits Alex Beitzke and Bradley Spence behind ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’.
The last few years have been remarkable for James. He was recently awarded a disc for reaching a billion streams on Spotify with his No.1 global hit ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’. Only 18 records have achieved a billion streams on Spotify in history, and James is one of 10 artists globally to do this including Drake, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.