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CD Reviews: Review of Back to Bedlam by James Blunt
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com James Blunt: Black to Bedlam (Custard/ Atlantic  2005)

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Next time, you’re flying from the United States to the UK (or vice versa), be sure to look out the window; you’ll see that the ocean is littered with the remnants of artists who were labeled as The Next Big Thing by the British press but never successfully made it across the pond to anything even remotely resembling decent sales figures in the US. It does seem, however, that the statistics seem to favor the chances of singer-songwriters more so than actual bands; you’ve got your David Gray, you’ve got your Damien Rice...and, now, hopefully, you’ll have your James Blunt.

After spending four years in the Royal Army, Blunt decided that it was time to arm himself not with artillery but with an arsenal of sweepingly melodic tunes. His falsetto instantly brings to mind early Elton John; in fact, the opening song, “High,” sounds almost as though it was inspired by the bit in “Rocket Man” where Elton sings, “And I’m gonna be hiiiIIIiiigh as a kite by then.” (The vocal similarity is also particularly notable on “Billy.”)

Sometimes, Blunt’s lyrics are as heartbreakingly melancholy as Morrissey – no shock, then, that he references Dorian Gray in “Tears and Rain” – with a prime example being the album’s first single, “You’re Beautiful,” which spent 5 weeks at the top of the British charts. “I saw your face in a crowded place,” sings Blunt, “and I don’t know what to do / ‘Cause I’ll never be with you.” This sadness is also evident in song titles like “Cry,” “Tears and Rain,” and “So Long, Jimmy,” but it’s “Goodbye Lover” that walks such a line that you remain uncertain as to whether he’s singing about the end of a relationship or if it’s a suicide note set to music. Cue the Elliot Smith comparisons, then, as you read these lines:

“I know your fears and you know mine
We’ve had our doubts, but now we’re fine
And I love you, I swear that’s true
I cannot live with you
Goodbye my lover
Goodbye my friend
You have been the one
You have been the one for me.”

Blunt’s time in the armed forces spent in Kosovo inspired the autobiographical closing track, “No Bravery,” which, athough produced by Linda Perry, shows none of the usual commercial gloss associated with her work. Indeed, it’s a somber finale to the disc, with Blunt’s words matching his last name as he sings, “Old men kneel and accept their fate / Wives and daughters cut and raped / A generation drenched in hate / Yes, he has been here.” Recently, the New York Times covered one of Blunt’s concerts in NYC, asking the question, “For a British heartthrob seeking stateside fame, there's a nagging concern: when in your concert do you sing the anguished songs about war crimes?” The answer was, “Pretty quickly into the show.” On album, however, there’s no possible way it can be used in any way other than to fade the proceedings into black.

Blunt’s falsetto may require some getting used to, and the way he so unabashedly wears his heart on his sleeve might make some uncomfortable, but this is the stuff that will be embraced by misunderstood young men, while making their sisters swoon. 

~Will Harris 


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