The concept of ‘the solo album’ is riddled with clichés, few of which apply to The XX’s Jamie Smith. As long as the glacial trio have existed, Smith has held down a parallel career as a DJ, remixer, producer and general totemic tastemaker of classy dance music. His remixes of Florence + The Machine and Adele in particular are two certified generational club anthems. So this long-overdue solo album was expected to crown him as the king of UK dance. Thing is, Jamie didn’t get that memo.
‘In Colour’ is a fine album, but expecting songs as feisty as his DJ sets is a big mistake. Take ‘The Rest Is Noise’: the kind of filmic sonic art designed to soundtrack a teary comedown, not the preceding rave. Dance music history is alluded to everywhere, from samples of ’90s jungle MCs to the liberal use of rare groove classic ‘Could Heaven Ever Be Like This’ by Idris Muhammad on ‘Loud Places’.
Yet even when breakbeats rattle and bass synths throb, there’s still an annoying sense of safety and comfort – two things that have no place in dance music. Opener ‘Gosh’ starts with two minutes of drums so moody they ought to have a pitbull on a leash, yet it ends up smothered in warm major-key melodies that throw a fire blanket on the flames.
Unexpectedly, it’s the songs that feature the rest of The XX that shine. ‘Stranger in a Room’, sung by husky bandmate Oliver Sim and embellished with trademark echo guitar, is a delight. Romy Madley Croft’s unmistakable purr cuts through the hazy textures of ‘SeeSaw’, while her vocal spot on the brilliant ‘Loud Places’ helps make it a shoo-in for summer ubiquity. All the same, having your bandmates steal the show to such an extent hardly makes for a classic solo album.