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'Electric Light' review: James Bay's successful makeover

James Bay's

James Bay's "Electric Light" is on Republic Records. Credit: Republic Records

JAMES BAY

“Electric Light”

BOTTOM LINE Daring new image to match the onetime rocker’s new eclectic sound.

James Bay looks like a new man. The long hair and the trademark black fedora are gone, as is the straightforward rock of “Let It Go.”

For his sophomore album “Electric Light” (Republic), Bay has combined bits of rock, R&B and EDM to create something new and compelling, as he writes about navigating relationships in the modern world.

His biggest risk may also be his most successful, with the late-night, booty-call complaint “Fade Out.” Part Frank Ocean alt-soul, complete with effective falsetto, part ’80s synth pop, Bay’s worry about the state of his relationship — “You only want me when the lights are down” — is one of the freshest pop songs of the year.

The single “Pink Lemonade,” which Bay debuted on “Saturday Night Live,” successfully combines early Strokes shimmer with Euro swagger. “Wild Love” combines “Higher Love”-era Steve Winwood with James Blake-ian synth squiggles and classic Roxy Music style. With different production choices, “Sugar Drunk High” could easily be a country hit tomorrow.

With “Electric Light,” Bay reintroduces himself as a forward-thinking artist with plenty to say. It’s a makeover that goes well beyond his shorter hair and flashier shirts.

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