James Blake is a jack of all trades and arguably the most versatile British artist to have risen to prominence over the last decade. One moment he’s covering Joni Mitchell, and the next, he’s producing Dave’s chart-topping rap album We’re All Alone In This Together.
Blake is a wholly modern musician, one that remains impossible to pin down to one genre or sound. The eclectic mix of artists that he’s covered over the years proves just how broad his pallet truly is, and that’s reflective in his own original work too.
Recently, the English multi-instrumentalist announced that his fifth studio album, Friends That Break Your Heart, arrives next month, and to tide you over until the record drops, we are dipping into his finest covers.
During the first lockdown last year, Blake regularly kept his fans entertained with impromptu performances on Instagram Live, where he delved into his record collection to provide fans with a glimpse into what songs mean the most to him. Even before then, Blake was ample to a cover, and below is a handful of his most delectable.
James Blake’s best covers:
Billie Eilish – ‘When The Party’s Over’
Billie Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? set the world on fire in 2019, and ‘When The Party’s Over’ is one of a flurry of tracks that helped make her the new face of pop music.
Blake gave Eilish his backing when he delivered his fresh take on the effort and brought it into his universe by stripping it down. It’s a raw and sterling cover that fully moulds her song into his unique sound, which gives ‘When The Party’s Over’ a calming touch.
Roberta Flack – ‘The First Time I Saw Your Face’
While Roberta Flack’s version of ‘The First Time I Saw Your Face’ is also a cover, with Ewan McColl penning the original, it’s her take on the track which forms the inspiration for Blake’s quaint and stirring recording.
It’s rich in emotion and will leave you reaching for a box of Kleenex after you listen to Blake’s heart-rending vocals that showcase exactly why he’s held in such high regard.
Radiohead – ‘No Surprises’
Taking on Radiohead is an almost impossible task, especially on an off-the-cuff live stream filmed on an iPhone, but it’s one that Blake made look easy when he took on ‘No Surprises’.
Granted, Blake didn’t reinvent the song and instead just paid homage to the original, which is all you can do when a track is as close to perfect as ‘No Surprises’. If this doesn’t leave you goosebumps running wild across your body, then you probably should get yourself checked out and visit a specialist.
Nirvana – ‘Come As You Are’
Unlike Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’, Blake had to lean into his own persona and originality to make his cover of Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’ work. One man sat down at a piano in his home doesn’t have the same gravitas as the fierce original studio recording, and instead, Blake toned it down.
The singer-songwriter turned it into a blissful and delicate masterpiece, moving the grunge classic into new sonic territory. It’s a peaceful slab of melancholia that makes you hear ‘Come As You Are in a brand new light.
Joy Division – ‘Atmosphere’
There are few more atypical sounding bands than Joy Divison, from Peter Hook’s thundering basslines to Ian Curtis’ haunting vocals. Every single facet of the group’s sound and aesthetic is distinctive to them.
Blake performed ‘Atmosphere’ for the first time during a live stream, but at the end of last year, the crooner got into the studio and recorded an utterly spellbinding take on the Joy Division classic. He reinvents the track while still retaining the feel and energy of the original.
Joni Mitchell – ‘A Case Of You’
Blake first covered Joni Mitchell in 2011, when his gorgeous version of ‘A Case Of You’ appeared on Enough Thunder EP’s breakthrough. This reimagined cover has become one of his most well-loved efforts and even got the Joni Mitchell seal of approval when she came to see him live around that period, which was a life-affirming experience for the Englishman.
Speaking to The Independent in 2013, Blake said: “Until writing my first album I’d only listened to Blue, and after the album was made I progressed in a reverse chronology to Clouds and Song to a Seagull. As embarrassing as it is to admit how little of her discography I actually have, I like the idea that I’ll enjoy Joni’s work over my lifetime, as though slowly peeling back the drape to uncover the larger picture.
“Meeting her assured me that the process will never be dull. She has a biting irony and we spent a lot of the evening laughing. Experiencing this side of her made me rethink some lyrics from Clouds and Blue. With her advice still fresh in my mind, on the plane home I wrote my second album, Overgrown.”
He concluded: “Joni’s music always reminds me that melody is flexible, and that if you want to reinvent yourself as she continually has, you should command it to bend and ebb and flow, and treat it as king. She is a great remedy to melodic block.”