While there are many women making great club music, unfortunately the most common stereotype of “a deejay/producer” is still The Solitary Man. He makes beats in his bedroom by himself; he performs solo; he tours alone. Jamie Smith, however, started out in a band – a collaborative venture. The xx got famous fast, and Smith has since pursued several other collaborative projects – producing for Drake, working with Gil Scott Heron, and so on. But now we have In Colour, with just his name on the cover. As he told Rolling Stone, he doesn’t “get to hide in the back any more.” Behind the self-deprecation is, perhaps, the fear of going it alone when your musical identity is so tied to such a successful band.
Opener Gosh betrays none of this diffidence. Built around a mangled sample of the break in Lyn Collins’ Think About It, Gosh is an homage to UK hardcore, the first half to its grimier edge and the second to its ravey, positive-vibes soul. Swaggering, cut-up beats are peppered with MC calls, and punctuated with what begins as an ominous sweeping bass; then, a surprisingly sunny portmanteau synth flips that same bass line into major key-sounding ecstasy. It’s an extremely clever and well-worked song. Later on, the UK hardcore referencing returns with Hold Tight: maximal jungle with gentrified-South-London aesthetics. It’ll be interesting to see how much staying power this iteration of the ‘nuum will have.
The xx were either pilloried or praised for their lyrics on love and (failed) relationships, and In Colour develops these themes. SeeSaw is the most like an xx song on the whole album, with xx bandmate Romy delivering a breathe-y vocal about a tortuously changeable romance that appears to end in resigned melancholy. Then Smith’s onto what’s likely to be the album highlight for most people, Loud Places, again featuring Romy on vocals. A softly tinkling piano and warm bass rouses when a hand-clapped section ushers in a sing-along chorus over a smart, if unsurprisingly so by now, lyric on a breakup. Songs like this will confirm either fans’ adulation of The xx as emotionally-articulate, minimal pop geniuses, or detractors’ dismissal as formulaic miserabilists.
There are a couple of missteps. I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times is fun, to an extent, and is probably some kind of showcase for Smith’s RnB/hip-hop production talents, but becomes skip-able after a few listens. Album closer Girl starts with bathos – a voice saying, “you’re the most beautiful girl in Hackney, you know.” It’s a decent song, but it feels quite static compared to the rest of the album, and doesn’t lend any sense of conclusion where there should be.
We have here, then, a debut solo effort that is excellent in large parts, less so in others. The track sequencing, other than for Girl, is spot on, but an over-reliance on lyrics describing fraught/ended relationships will lead some to wonder whether The xx, as a band, can write about anything else. Smith might be still working out what ‘his sound’ really is. But if the aim was to establish himself as an individual performer of great talent, to send off the nervous shoe-gazing boy reputation – to efface his own self-effacement, maybe – In Colour is a great success.