James Arthur 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 and a restless rifle through musical styles. From the retro hip hop of lead single ‘Treehouse’ to , the stately, strings-accompanied ‘Quite Miss Home’, from the soul-rock belter ‘From Me To You’ to the jazzy ‘Breathe’, from the furious title track to bonkers closer ‘Marine Parade’, YOU reflects the breath of James’ musical tastes and talent.
“I set out to prove how much I can do,” James explains. ““I looked back at what I’d achieved and realised that I don’t need to compete anymore. I know the music I want to make. I’m not trying to be anyone else.”
In contrast to 2016’s UK chart-topper Back From The Edge, YOU isn’t autobiographical. James may glimpse himself in some of the songs, but none come from personal experience. ‘Treehouse’ touches on mental health, but it’s more of a feel good ode to survival. The track boasts guest raps from Ty Doll$ Sign and Manchester’s Shotty Horroh, while YOU’s freedom-fighting title track features Blink-182’s Travis Barker. Among a handful of songs recorded with big-name producers in L.A. are the soulful ‘Finally Feel Good’ and the autumnal ‘Sad Eyes’, influenced by James’ love of Miguel.
“Whatever style I wrote in, the songs had to feel real,” says James. “I want to write music with something to say, that will connect with people on a meaningful level, rather than make glossy pop that relies on production.”
Among YOU’s most mesmerising moments are the Eg White 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 ‘and the hymnal folk of ‘Fall’, while ‘Marine Parade’ takes James on a journey back to X Factor. “Marine Parade is a song about missing home which I wrote just after winning the show ,” says James. “The only reason it wasn’t on my debut is the gospel sample it’s built on, which we couldn’t afford to clear.
“Even at 31, I still miss home. I never imagined I’d say that. Then again, I never imagined being 31. To be still doing this is a dream.”