James Blake: Friends That Break Your Heart review – a breakup album with a difference

By Kitty Empire
James Blake.
‘Affecting’: James Blake. Photograph: Josh Stadlen

Assume Form, James Blake’s 2019 album, detailed his joy at being in love. Blake’s other half, the actor Jameela Jamil, politely requested he find a new subject next time.

He has obliged with a record about the pain of sundered friendships. Last year’s lockdowns helped him sort the keepers from the energy vampires; a few of these songs were trialled during Blake’s Instagram Live gigs in 2020.

We all know losing a friend can be just as painful as losing a lover – “it hurts like the end of the world,” he sings on Coming Back. At first this elegant compendium of digital chamber music and subtle trap pop works like a breakup album. Many affecting tracks detail the sharknado of outrage and bewilderment in Blake’s trademark delicate soprano, offset occasionally by well-chosen collaborators (SZA, or rappers JID and SwaVay) or startlingly pitch-shifted vocals.

But FTBYH also weighs in on the creative process, the business of music and comparing oneself to others. Lead single Say What You Will is a mellow anthem about self-worth, while Funeral is another key track. “I hold my ear to a shell,” sings Blake pointedly, “I hear something that no one can sell.”

Watch the video for Say What You Will by James Blake.

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