As harbingers of impending doom go, James Blunt's tweet of 13th December was not exactly up there with Y2K, The Rapture or the kerfuffle around the Mayan Calendar:
If you thought 2016 was bad - I'm releasing an album in 2017.— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) December 13, 2016
It did, however, get people asking questions – primarily “Who's James Blunt?” and “God, where did they dig him up from?”. True to his word, Blunt's new album The Afterlove hit the shelves this week. It is his fifth studio album to date and his first in four years. Allow me to first establish my firm pro-Blunt position prior to this album's release. Back To Bedlam was the soundtrack to the latter part of my time at university. Goodbye My Lover, You're Beautiful, Wisemen, Tears And Rain, Out Of My Mind and Billy (my personal favourite) were all solid pop rock tracks that might have stood the test of time better had they not been so ritualistically overplayed at the time. As it is, they have become the musical equivalent of watching Del Boy fall through the bar – withered husks begging for the merciful release of death and Blunt's reputation has been the collateral damage of the whims of the masses.
His work since then has been a little more hit and miss. I enjoyed 1973 from his follow-up album All The Lost Souls, even if it did have me wondering how old James Blunt must be to have been dancing in a club to Johnny Nash. Stay The Night and Bonfire Heart both had a sense of nostalgia that I found it easy to fall into and wallow around in. The accompanying albums, however, failed to tread the same path as their pioneering singles and felt a little flat and phoned-in. The Afterlove definitely bucks this trend.
Blunt sets out a stall of vulnerability right from the off. Love Me Better is an indictment of all the people who have taken a swing at him for his perceived musical 'crimes' whilst also standing as a touching acknowledgement to the woman who has sheltered him with her affection. This sentiment is echoed later in the album as 2005 takes an even more oblique swipe at the fickle, fairweather fans to whom he no longer wishes to apologize. On California, Blunt anthropomorphises the state (and, more subtly, the fame industry located there) and enters into a rollercoaster relationship with her, frustrated by her blowing hot and cold until finally resolving to bask in her affection, however fleeting it may be.
Away from personal traumas, Time Of Our Lives is a beautiful track about getting lost in the all-consuming aura of a relationship that you know is right. Don't Give Me Those Eyes magnificently channels a Peter Cetera 80s vibe in a song about forbidden love and the loneliness of feeling like the person nobody wants to end up with. Courtney's Song is a moving tribute to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, the latter of whom Blunt lodged with in Los Angeles whilst recording Back To Bedlam.
There were things I wasn't as fond of. Someone Singing Along feels like a token political song with no real substance – almost as if Blunt is joining in a conversation at a party that holds no real interest or expertise for him. There is also something about the swearing on the album that feels unnecessary, like a naughty schoolboy looking up profanities in the dictionary and scratching them into a desk. On the whole though, this album very much feels like Blunt back to his very best.
Whilst it may sound like a posh word for the wet patch, The Afterlove is definitely more of an introspective than an outpouring. Since his last album, Blunt appears to have adopted a public persona that leans heavily towards self-deprecation and a willingness to fit with the caricatures drawn of him by the media. This album whistles a different tune – it tells of a man whose skin is not as thick as he might make out. Blunt has been made, broken and rebuilt by the industry he has chosen, probably more times than any other artist would tolerate. Desired until over-familiarity set in and then tossed to one side like children dismissing a new toy. Yes, the album isn't perfect but I honestly think if Ed Sheeran had released it, there would be some heralding it as a masterpiece. It is heartfelt, honest and hunkered in a bunker of hostility at all those who might hazard a pot shot out of nothing more than spite. Perhaps it is time we start to respect James Blunt for the talented singer-songwriter he is rather than lobby so vehemently against him just because we over-indulged ten years ago.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“I'm sad the record's broken//But I don't think I can write a better love song”
Broken and rebuilt
James Blunt takes no prisoners
In war on critics
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