If you showed me a line-up of ten men wearing wide-brimmed hats and told me each and every one of them was James Bay, I would believe you. Because that’s all there is to James Bay, right? A big fuck off hat. But keen Bay-watchers will have noticed the hat has been conspicuously absent from all Bay’s recent promo, as well as his lovely long locks. Today, James Bay is a man with razor-sharp cheekbones, slicked back hair and – worryingly – no hat. Now, if you showed me any man with brown hair and told me it was James Bay, I would have to believe you. Because I don’t know what to think any more.
Anyway, hat or no hat, Bay is getting back to business, following up his hugely successful debut album with some new tunes. ‘Wild Love’ is Bay’s first single since 2016 and a significant departure form his signature sound.
Whereas the Bay of old was all about indie guitar tunes and folk-tinged white-guy pop, the Bay of today is a different beast entirely. Everything that characterised a James Bay song has been dumped (probably in the same place as the hat), replaced by on-trend electronics and minimalist pop.
So, what do we make of this? The main problem with ‘Wild Love’ is that it’s not very good. I mean, nothing about this is any good at all. For a start, it is perhaps the most boring song of the year so far, a plodding, sleepy track that fails to get anywhere near a convincing melody. Even Bay sounds unconvinced, murmuring his way through this limp bit of Radio 1 pap, lost amidst a bland arrangement that complements neither his voice nor his style.
Had he stuck to his original formula, perhaps things would be different. ‘Wild Love’ might make for a passable guitar track, a bit of finger-picking could give it a bit of texture at least, but as it stands, it’s a cold and isolating affair that never really gels. If Bay wanted to make a minimalist sex jam, he has only succeeding in creating a track with all the sex appeal of a photocopier. Lines like “Let’s be reckless, unaffected / Running out until we’re breathless,” are sung with no urgency, while the repeated refrain of “But I wanna give you wild love / The kind that never slows down,” sounds completely asexual, devoid of any intimacy. ‘Wild Love’ reads like it was built from the butchered parts of a million better love songs, their disembodied limbs sewn together here in a string of tired cliches and hasty, haphazard couplets for the sake of a derivative pop stinker.
As a comeback track, ‘Wild Love’ is a big misstep. Abandoning the sound that made his name was always going to be a risk, but adopting sparse tropical-tinged pop when it’s already saturating the airwaves is just downright stupid. James Bay gives a masterclass on how not rebrand yourself on his latest track, and proves that his ludicrous hat was the source of his powers all along.