Poor James, he’s had a tough life. At the posh Harrow School he was called a rude word that rhymes with “Blunt”. After training at Sandhurst (the very same academy that would later welcome Princes Willy and Harry) he was sent to keep the peace in Kosovo – virtually single-handedly – as every press release is sure to remind us. And even when the singing soldier’s debut album ‘Back To Bedlam’ was bought by 11 million people (allowing him to buy a villa in Ibiza), he was derided and ridiculed by millions more.
To be fair, it’s not James Hillier Blount’s fault that ‘You’re Beautiful’ was so overplayed and overexposed as to approximate a rather strenuous session of Chinese water torture. But it’s certainly his fault that he’s such an easy target – the voice of a hoarse, dying crow; the earnest, bleeding-heart delivery of banal, inconsequential lyrics (“I saw your face in a crowded place”); the perpetual, self absorbed whining.
He clearly doesn’t care though – the approach is largely reprised on his return, ‘All The Lost Souls’, with a bit of space left for a bigger backing band and more arrogance. Album opener ‘1973’ benefits from both. A serviceable pop song, it swings unlike anything off his debut, copping a few Coldplay piano crescendos along the way, as Blunt sings with conviction about the year before he was born.
On the equally boppy ‘Annie’ he consoles a woman whose dreams of success have been shattered – by considerately asking if she’ll go down on him, before offering exactly what every woman wants: “You’ll be famous as you are / ‘Cos I’ll sing for you”. That’s sure to make up for her heartache, James.
The self-importance taints his logic again on ‘Give Me Some Love’: “Why don’t you give me some love / I’ve taken shiploads of drugs” he reasons as the song develops into a sea shanty, while ‘I Can’t Hear The Music’ finds the multi-millionaire somewhat disingenuously looking ahead to the day when his audience has deserted him.
Simultaneously it continues Blunt’s apparent obsession with the ’70s – even if his musical knowledge of the decade seems limited to Cat Stevens, and the lyrics reference the ’60s (The Lonely Hearts Club Band) and ’80s (‘Billy’s Got A Gun’) – that pervades much of ‘All The Lost Souls’.
So musically ‘Same Mistake’ and ‘Carry You Home’ are twee, folksy ditties you might find on ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ or ‘Catch Bull At Four’, while ‘One Of The Brightest Stars’ is an equally saccharine ballad harking back to the decade but, cunningly, featuring piano instead of acoustic guitar.
In fact it’s really only ‘I’ll Take Everything’, with its tense piano riff, subtle guitar licks and surprisingly restrained orchestral arrangement, that really surprises. ‘All The Lost Souls’ really is exactly what you’d expect from Commander Blunt – including the most contrived suicide lyrics ever (“So I set out to cut myself / And here I go”).
It’s sure to sell another kazillion copies. And he’s sure to still sound miserable on album three.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.