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CD Review: Back to Bedlam by James Blunt

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There have been a few outstanding albums in 2005, along with some particularly egregious stinkers. I’m happy to end this year of reviews with one of the couple of best albums of the year- and from a new guy at that.

James Blunt just SO totally kicks ass with Back to Bedlam. This sumbitch is a real songwriter. He knows how to write some hooks, develop them melodically, and put some rhythm to them.

More significantly, this album really has some soul. “Soul” is obviously a somewhat epehemeral concept, hard to put a finger on, but there’s some emotional depth to what he’s doing. These songs are not just catchy- though they’re certainly that- but resonant as well.

Indeed, this record got too damned resonant for me for a minute there. I first heard him on Saturday Night Live, and immediately this album got found and slapped into heavy rotation. After a week of intense listening, we suddenly got hit with the first big winter storm of the season down on the farm.

Thus, I was snowed in, feeling rather anxious and trapped getting into the shortest days of the season, watching the suicide video for “You’re Beautiful” and the straight up suicide note of “Goodbye My Lover.” Grim scene, baby. I had to put this thing down for a few days.

But not for long, cause it’s just beautiful work, if a bit disturbing in places. Partly, this was a weird subjective moment of personal vulnerability, but still. I’m long since not some impressionable teenager, and I can’t remember when a mere record has ever spooked me like this. That’s a pretty fair achievement.

The whole album is excellent, but in particular there are at least four songs that rate as classics. The suicide note “Goodbye My Lover” probably counts as the best song. It’s just a perfect quietly dramatic piano ballad. It’s SO pretty and right that it starts to sound real convincing. This strikes me as a lot more potent and thus more emotionally hazardous than any damned silly Ozzy “Suicide Solution.” This art is dangerous!

“You’re Beautiful” was his first song on SNL, and appears to be the featured US promo track. If this thing doesn’t make a huge radio hit, then you might as well just give up listening to a damned radio. It’s more rhythmically aggressive with the guitars, and less directly sad. [The suicide theme was strictly the video, not in the lyrics at all.] This is as good a basic pop song as I heard all year. I just heard this on the radio for the first time while wandering through a Dollar General, and boy did it cut right through that so-so Avril Lavigne record playing immediately before.

The first single back home in England apparently was “Wisemen.” Some folks what wish malicious spite on Mr Blunt compare him to the dreaded Coldplay, with the big piano ballads and all. Not fair! This song especially would compare much more closely to classic Elton John.

It reminds me just a bit- in a good influence manner, not a bad ripoff sort of way- of Elton’s classic “Tiny Dancer.” I’m not sure if it’s quite up with that classic, but it sure beats hell out of anything Elton’s done in a quarter century. Also, with those aggressive rhythms, this could really benefit from a creative remix, perhaps a good hiphop producer.

Now, I could at least theoretically hear an argument that he’s playing overly casually with the suicide themes. Oh that chick on the subway was SO hot that I think I’ll just KILL myself if I can’t have her. If the song weren’t so exceptionally good, such an argument might persuade me. I’ve usually got a low patience for that kind of thing.

However, he ends the album with something very real right down to the core, about people with REAL problems. “No Bravery” reflects his experience as a British army captain in Bosnia. Between the lyrical details surrounding it, the music supporting it, and the melodic inflection, the forlorn cries of “He has been here” in “No Bravery” could really put the fear of God into you. I’m not sure just who “he” is, but I’m glad there’s an ocean between me and this scary bastard.

Hey, I could be here all day trying to explain this powerful piece of art, but I’ve only got a few hours of year left. Look, if you’re at all interested in pop music, you need to hear this, m’kay?

MUSIC SUSTAINS THE SOUL

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  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com/ Christopher Rose

    I’m really looking forward to hearing this album, Al.

  • http://onenjenifer.blogspot.com Jenifer Gonzales

    I like it, too. Even included it on my Best Of 2005 list here.

  • http://onenjenifer.blogspot.com Jenifer Gonzales

    You’re right. I don’t have my Best Of 2005 review posted on my personal blog. I don’t always post at both places. Whenever that’s the case, I simply refer others to read more from me (as in, other stuff I’ve written) at my personal blog. Does that make sense? Just wanted to clarify …

  • seeker23

    A fair review.

    Although, in my opinion, there are some mistakes.

    The song You’re Beautiful is about an ex-girlfriend, not just some ‘hot’ babe he saw. Knowing that, the lyrics are not so shallow and neurotic sounding.

    The video is said to be about stripping oneself of all the old baggage and ‘taking the plunge’ again. Although the makers of the video may have intended it to be, the jump at the end is often mis-interpreted.

    Goodbye My Lover is a ‘miserable’ song, as james calls it in his live show, but sometimes being miserable is okay and can result in some absolutely gorgeous music.

    You are spot on with the Elton John comments. James was discovered by one of Elton’s producers…and James sang at Elton’s recent wedding.

    I’ve heard some demos and unreleased tracks from james and they indicate that his sophomore effort will be just as brilliant if not more so.

    Check out his cover of Dylan’s ‘I Want You’….the song ‘Same Mistake’…and ‘Close Your Eyes’.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Thanks Seeker. I could only judge the songs based on the record itself, which doesn’t sound like someone he actually knows based on the text. But the emotion of that melody is deep, however you want to take that lyric.

    The video sure LOOKS like a suicide. I don’t see how we could be expected to take it otherwise, particularly coupled with the clearly suicidal sentiment of “Goodbye My Lover.” That’s certainly a sad song- but beautifully sad.

    I’m certainly eager to hear a sophomore album. I’ll just say that I’m trying to lower my expectations a bit so that I don’t feel bitterly disappointed if the follow up is merely quite good rather than another masterpiece.

  • http://romanticpoetry.angelcities.com/index.html Cathy

    James Blunt’s songs are beautiful. You’re Beautiful appears to be someone that he saw on a subway and had an instant connection (it happens), yet he realized that he would never be with her (she was with another man).

    The suicide scene may be a metaphor regarding this realization that he will never see her.

    I’be been trying to find the video of that leap into the sea…would someone take the time and tell me the name of the Video or DVD that it can be found?
    Thanks.

  • JMM1974

    James is NOT committing suicide in the video for You’re Beautiful. It is misunderstood! Why would someone who wants to kill himself bother to remove stuff out of his pockets if he didn’t even CARE about his life anymore? The song is about seeing his ex girlfriend with her new man, and he realized he had to move on. He said in interviews that he’s going for a swim. (To clear his head.)

    James said that Goodbye My Lover is about the anguish of knowing he can’t be with his “THE ONE” anymore. Whoever she was, he wanted to have kids with her and apparently she decided otherwise. It’s often tragic when one person loves another so much and the other doesn’t feel the same. He is hardly suicidal… again, it’s a release of pain.

  • jazz

    It amazes me how the majority never speak of ‘Cry’. Probably his best song to date.