“I have never been a beautiful boy / never liked the sound of my own voice…” That autobiographical lyric is how British singer/songwriter James Blunt opens “Bones” from his fourth album, Moon Landing. When an artist possesses a truly distinct, pronouncedly different voice from the multitude, it can work beneficially or adversely. Many artists in such a position have experienced the sweet taste of success with a breakout single or album, only to later find themselves as “has-beens”. For Blunt, success came in gargantuan proportions with remarkable and ubiquitous hit, “You’re Beautiful”. Since earning multiple accolades for the ‘song that could’, Blunt’s career has cooled considerably - at least in the US. Blunt never been able to match the success of “You’re Beautiful” or parent album Back to Bedlam. While Moon Landing has some unique facets and cues, it doesn’t seem to aim for a new group of fans.
Moon Landing is a solid affair, though by no means describable as an innovative ‘tour de force’. “Feel the Sun” kicks things off more restrained than one might envision for an opener. After taking an antithetical approach through balladry, the cut expands into a fully-developed, soaring number. After reaching its peak, it cools, ending as subtly as it began. “Satellites” contrasts with more of a ‘groove’, which sounds incredibly crisp within the production. The sound still trends conservative, but with a dash of the ‘tongue-in-cheek’, giving Blunt more of a lighthearted persona. The chorus adheres to ‘pop guidelines’ with its big sound, where Blunt’s clear vocals sit commandingly atop the production. As for the songwriting, it’s both thoughtful and carefree, whether “She’s from a long lost tribe looking for the light…” or questioning life’s ultimate existence (“...For all we know life’s just a dream / who the hell knows what it means / stop the world and sing with me”).
Lead single “Bonfire Heart” is the main attraction for sure, with it’s folk-pop driven sound. Enthused, Blunt delivers memorable lyrical moments including “Your mouth is a revolver / firing bullets into the sky” and the less profoundly poetic “...I’ve been looking at you /for a long, long time / just trying to break through / trying to make you mine…” Schmaltzy? Definitely, particularly the chorus where “people like us, we don’t / need that much, just someone that starts / starts the spark in our bonfire hearts.” Another bubbly song with ‘heart’ in its title follows via “Heart to Heart”, which is similarly pleasant. The highlight is the call and response oriented format of the verses, which Blunts lead and background vocals trading back and forth. Neither “Bonfire Heart” nor “Heart to Heart” reinvent ‘love’ or the pop song, but are enjoyable.
“Miss America” continues to show off Blunt’s nuanced pipes. Beginning more restrained, by the bridge, things have grown considerably. The lyrics continue to be ‘dramatic’, specifically “Does another voice sing in heaven’s choir tonight / to fill the silence left behind / and I don’t know what goes on in your mind / I’m sure it’s enough to make me cry…” Definitely one sensitive dude, that’s for sure! His vocals don’t shine as commandingly on “The Only One”, where the balance between production and lead vocals seems a bit off. He atones vocally on “Sun on Sunday”, even if the slower tempo makes the beautifully performed cut a bit of a bore. Sure, it’s chivalry at its best, but lacks some excitement and pizazz. Apparently Blunt and company received that memo, and went all-in on “Bones”. The rub? It is excessively overproduced, taking away from its good intentions.
“Always Hate Me” comes back down to earth, predictably peaking structurally during the refrain. Regardless of any predictability, the sweetness of Blunt’s falsetto is undeniable. “Postcards” and “Blue on Blue” prove to be respectable closers. “Postcards” tropical-oriented pop sounds a bit clumsy at first, but grows on you, particularly when a guitar solo arrives. “Blue on Blue” is more ‘tried-and-true’ Blunt, only with some added flair via harmonized vocals, strings, and a spectacular ending signaled by “I’m coming under fire”.
Ultimately, Moon Landing is another solid album by Blunt. Like many adult-alternative artists, Blunt finds himself trapped in that ‘middle-of-the-road’ categorization. The biggest flaw of Moon Landing is it’s lack of forward-thinking artistry; it is not an innovative nor flashy affair. Because of this, the album should satisfy hardcore fans but may struggle to recruit fresh blood. Quibbles aside though, Blunt’s voice has lost none of its polish or uniqueness. Still an acquired taste? Of course.
// Notes from the Road
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