For so long, stories of great heartbreak have largely centered on romantic love, framing loss in this form as the greatest hardship of the heart. What if the same time, attention, and care were to be applied not just to stories of heartbreak from a lover, but from a friend, too?
This is the question posited by James Blake on his fifth studio album Friends That Break Your Heart, out today (October 8th). The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter from across the pond has spent the last decade pairing his rich, often nearly operatic vocals with a piano and minimalist, vaguely experimental production. This latest entry feels a bit like the adage of “don’t mess with a good thing:” It’s not that Blake is stagnant; he just knows his lane.
Over twelve tracks, Blake honors the name of the album by spending the majority speaking as if to a friend. He wrote on every song, and the name of his girlfriend, actress Jameela Jamil, appears in the songwriting credits for three tracks (“Famous Last Words,” “Coming Back (feat. SZA,” and “I’m So Blessed You’re Mine).
While Blake is by no means only known for songs about heartbreak, it’s always interesting to see what happens when historically introspective, sometimes gloomy writers release projects in times of romantic bliss. (For someone like Taylor Swift, at least, it meant releasing the best work of their career.) For Blake, it meant mining other facets of life beyond the romantic, and the cohesiveness of the album is proof of his skill as a writer.
Blake has always been a smart collaborator — his 2019 album, Assume Form, featured a star-studded track list, and he took home a Grammy Award in 2019 for his work on the Black Panther soundtrack alongside Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Future. Here, the collaborations shine again, particularly “Coming Back,” which features SZA. SZA would probably sound good over any beat, but “Coming Back,” with its charged groove, is a perfect home for her honey vocals.