Bitter Sweet Love

Bitter Sweet Love

“With this album, I really feel like I’ve returned to myself as a singer-songwriter,” James Arthur tells Apple Music. “There’s a few songs that are pretty raw. I think that I’ve felt the demand for that in my fanbase.” The Middlesbrough-born artist’s fifth album Bitter Sweet Love isn’t all fan service, though. With work beginning before he headed out on tour in early 2022, he had a creative mission in mind. “I didn’t want to work with more than one producer, really,” he says. “Whereas historically, it might be a producer and then a cowriter, or I might just write by myself, or do the odd thing with a producer. This was very much just about finding somebody that could harness the vision that I had or understand it and help bring it to life.” During a month-long blitz—the musical equivalent of speed dating—Arthur wound up reconnecting with Steven Solomon, who he worked with on his second record Back from the Edge. “The fact that he had been a session guitarist for a long time was really helpful—me and him were just getting a couple of guitars out and jamming a bit,” Arthur says. Within a week after the tour wrapped they had written the core of the record. “It just felt very inspired. I wanted to capture where I was at in a live sense,” he says. “I wanted to go back to more rock instrumentation.” Working almost entirely with Solomon not only facilitated a cohesive artistic vision, but allowed for experimentation and emotional vulnerability in the music. Album opener “Bitter Sweet Love,” for example, sees Arthur straddle heartache, strutting late ’80s funk guitars, a driving Kings of Leon-sized pre-chorus, and layered gospel backing vocals, while “Just Us” is a gorgeous ballad about how parenthood affects life’s priorities. “This time, I feel like the floodgates were opened. It just felt like the possibilities were endless.” Read on to find out more about each track on Bitter Sweet Love in Arthur’s own words. “Bitter Sweet Love” “I kept singing it, ‘Bitter sweet love,’ in that cadence that you hear. It obviously has a bit of a The 1975 feel, but I wanted it to depart from that groove and that’s where the Kings of Leon pre-chorus came from. It was clear that I wanted to talk about love and heartbreak. Of course, if it’s really love, it ain’t going to be plain sailing. I thought it was a cute thing to do to ask if we just have that sweet love all the time.” “Free Falling” “I was sat at the piano and just started singing, ‘Jenny down the road’s got a new love.’ The lads were like, ‘Why do you keep singing people’s names?’ I just love that thing when [the lyrics] are very visceral. You can imagine what is going on and bring characters into the song. I guess where I was coming from was I imagined this story of a guy who is watching the world go by and is very jealous of people’s happiness. He wants validation. That fed a lot into my story, where I feel like I’m on the outside looking in and I’m not being recognized.” “Sleepwalking” “I thought the word ‘sleepwalking’ was a cool umbrella to write a song around. I actually started the song with the pre-chorus. It made absolutely no sense at all but sounded good to me. Steven was like, ‘That’s really sick, but should we try and find some lyrics that make more sense?’ But I thought why don’t we try and build the song around that pre-chorus instead? Luckily, that sleepwalking concept really married up. I wanted to prove I still had that singer-songwriter thing that I think a lot of my fans from a long time ago like, where it was very raw.” “Blindside” “I wanted to do a Springsteen type of vibe. The melody had a lot of movement and ‘blindside’ was a phrase that fit within that framework. It’s about falling in love at the wrong time. I was in a place where I felt like that’s what I wanted to talk about. I was unpacking some past trauma.” “Just Us” “I’ve been on a journey of looking for things outside of myself and not addressing what’s going on, not appreciating what’s going on around me, being desensitized. Having a child really changed my perspective on life. I never really had an anchor, and having [my daughter] was inspiring. It made me think about how really none of the things I’ve been doing up until this point matter.” “Comeback Kid” “[‘Comeback Kid’] was just something that the media put on me when I had the fall from grace, if you like, publicly. But this is a love song. It’s giving the credit to that other person and saying that, if anyone should take credit for the fact that I managed to bounce back, it’s you. And that just felt like a very lovely and sincere thing to say.” “From the Jump” “I love this song by Ryan Adams called ‘Come Pick Me Up.’ I really wanted to have a song that made me feel like that song does. We were jamming on the guitars and I arrived at the punchline in a very Nashville-type way: ‘I just want to spend forever with you.’ It felt very much like a walking-down-the-aisle-type thing. It felt like vows, essentially.” “A Year Ago” “I really felt this one deep down. There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than that feeling of ‘I thought you couldn’t love anybody more than me, and here I am having to look at you moving on.’ I’m singing about some really authentic stuff that I’d actually felt before.” “Ruthless” “I don’t know if you’ve ever been ghosted by anyone before, but it feels like someone’s pulled the rug. I didn’t think there was anything more real to respond to that feeling than, ‘Fucking hell. You are ruthless.’ I also wanted to have something that you could really rock out to and it was fun playing the character of a guy who’s disgruntled and bitter about what’s happened to him.” “New Generation” “I’m not adept at politics. I don’t really touch on those subjects very much. But obviously there’s a lot of things going on in the world that are just really hard to understand, like the division in the world. So I have a very simplistic view of all that. Why don’t we all just get along? I just wanted to have a song that expressed my honest feelings about everything and how it’s kind of on the new generation to undo a lot of this outdated way of thinking.” “My Favourite Pill” “I loved the idea of doing a sort of Talking Heads, grungy thing. I’ve also never really explored making the vocal gimmicky in a way. The song is about falling in love with the wrong people who I know aren’t going to fulfill me. Like with ‘Ruthless,’ I was playing a character where I’m a bit pathetic because I keep falling for the same traps all the time.” “Is It Alright?” “This song is about the last dance, I suppose. It’s about meeting up with someone who maybe you haven’t seen for a while and you know it’s over, but you want to pretend that it’s not for one night. We really pushed my vocal, because I felt like I hadn’t really [done that] on this record yet. I felt it was important to have a moment like that, where I was really on the edge.” “Homecoming” “Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time up in my hometown. I tried to move back there and I wanted to try and reintegrate into my community and see my family again and stuff. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but it taught me a lot and did actually realign me with the universe or something. That place was very much the making of me, and I think my morals and values have come from growing up in that environment. This song was my opportunity to write a love letter to my home.”

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