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James Arthur’s Bitter Sweet Love leaves a bitter taste of disappointment

By Leonie O’Sullivan, March 11 2024—

You might remember James Arthur for winning The X Factor in 2012 with his cover of “Impossible,” with his characteristic raspy voice. In 2013, he released his debut album, and since then has consistently released new music every three years — bringing us to his fifth studio album, Bitter Sweet Love, in 2024. Arthur poured all his bitterness about love straight into this album, unfortunately forgetting to add anything sweet.

The songwriting for the entire album is largely uninspiring and heavily reliant on clichés. Across the 13 tracks, Arthur continuously laments the loss of the love of his life. The listening experience is almost reminiscent of listening to a friend complain after a difficult breakup. I’m always glad to be there for a friend, but I did not necessarily enjoy the 43 minutes of Arthur screaming into the microphone about his heartbreak.

The album doesn’t fit into one genre, as it explores pop, punk and rock. The first track, “Bitter Sweet Love,” resembles the sound of The 1975, owing to the similar use of drums and a tangy electric guitar. The lack of imagination is clear with the bleak wordplay: “I need just a bit of sweet love, not your bittersweet love.” I must say, however, this first track is catchy. Arthur expresses love in this song while complaining about the games his love interest is playing. 

The hopeful tone dies off here, and we continue on a trail of melancholy. While I usually adore a good sad song, the lack of creativity and ever-present pain left me wishing to hit the skip button. “Free Falling” begins with the rich sound of a piano but quickly loses my respect with the lyric “Only you give me the wings to fly.” The emotional dependency is challenging to listen to throughout this insecurity-filled track.

“Sleepwalking” perpetuates the insecurity trend, and adds numerous cliches, including “You brought the calm, and I brought you thunder.” The quality doesn’t get any better in “Blindside.” The vocals on this track verge on screaming at points. His powerful vocals cannot compensate for the songwriting in the tracks “Comeback Kid” or “From The Jump” either. The latter echoes out at the ending in a very peculiar and unsettling manner.

“A Year Ago” is particularly annoying to listen to due to extreme repetition. The first 30 seconds alone feature the phrase “I miss you” five times. Arthur sings “I can’t help myself” in this track, but you certainly can by skipping it. “Ruthless” shows some signs of self-awareness, with him admitting to being foolish and wrong. He awkwardly tries to show an edgier side with the “New Generation” track, which describes modern times and its flaws, touching on themes of politics and social media. He tries to convey an air of indifference by concluding the song with “Oh f- it,” but it actually comes off as him trying too hard. The album’s final song, “Homecoming,” also delves into a different topic. But don’t get too excited; instead of singing about missing a love interest, he sings about missing his hometown. 

Despite Arthur’s undeniable singing talent, the poor songwriting and lack of creativity fail this album. The album is monotonous and too focused on how he longs for his ex.  I wish he would have explored a broader, more diverse range of topics and crafted a narrative within the album. Regardless of the lyrical aspects of Arthur’s album, you may find enjoyment in Bitter Sweet Love if you prefer to focus on the instrumentals rather than delving too deeply into the lyrics. Here’s hoping Arthur might release music worthy of his vocals in another three years.

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