As a music lover, I tend to enjoy artists who possess a distinctive voice – call me a weirdo (I like to think I’m just ‘eclectic’). That said, I also understand that a uniquely voiced artist often causes divisiveness among music listeners. British singer/songwriter James Blunt is no different. While characterizing Blunt’s high-pitched tenor as being ‘left-field’ as say Macy Gray would be quite an overstatement, Blunt definitely sports a unique sound. Given Blunt’s vocal contrasts to other artists, one might expect his music and style to showcase and highlight such. Well four albums in – with most recent effort Moon Landing dropping November 5, 2013 -Blunt’s distinctiveness artistically is only so-so. In other words, blasé. Cast the stones James Blunt fans, cast those stones.
I recently reviewed Moon Landing, and while I found it to be both pleasant and sometimes even enjoyable, at times the effort also trended ‘middle of the road’. Among the album’s strongest moments included “Satellites”, a care-free anthem whose chorus states“…for all we know life’s just a dream / who the hell knows what it means…”, poetic folk-pop promo single “Bonfire Heart” (“You’re mouth is a revolver / firing bullets in the sky / your love is like a soldier / loyal ‘til you die…”), and stunning closer “Blue On Blue”. Blunt does do some subtle things throughout to try to keep things interesting, but Moon Landing still could use that extra ‘oomph’ and innovative drive. It lacks ‘I’-word by all means…just sayin’!
As I did some background on recent effort Moon Landing, if I were to summarize Blunt’s intents on this album, it would be that he basically wishes ‘bear his soul’ (“About getting back to basics and rediscovering the power of music to communicate emotion directly and honestly, without too much polish or complication” per his Atlantic Records bio). Honestly, he is both candid and conservative in approach you might say, speaking from the heart as opposed to earnestly searching for his next commercial breakthrough. Ideally, this sort of ‘return’ to his Back to Bedlam sensibilities should also land him commercial rewards as well, right? WRONG! As I study prognostications for albums released on November 5, I see nothing about James Blunt debuting in the top ten. Some Kind of Trouble (2010) bowed just outside the top ten at no. 11 and failed to be certified by the RIAA (Back To Bedlam went double-platinum while All Souls Lost was gold-certified).
That brings me to my ultimate opinion and point of this whole feature on Blunt as an artist in 2013. I feel that while he has remained consistent since his valedictory “You’re Beautiful” and Back to Bedlam days, he hasn’t ascended to the next level. In the States, nothing has come close to the success of “You’re Beautiful”, and whether unfairly or not, that song seems to be the benchmark that Blunt has yet to meet or exceed. As a supporter of Blunt’s pipes where others might characterize his vocal timbre as ‘whiny’, I personally would like to see him ‘spread his wings’. That doesn’t mean the 39-year old needs to be a sellout and start incorporating electro- or hip-hop into his music (can you imagine?!?), but instead of opting for the ‘doubleback’, perhaps Blunt should be more progressive. Middle-of-the-road artists aren’t exactly the most popular commodity these days…
Favorites (from Moon Landing):
“Satellites”; “Bonfire Heart”; “Heart to Heart”; “Postcards”; “Blue on Blue”
Verdict (Moon Landing): ✰✰✰