To a lot of rock-crit types and “serious music fans”, James Blunt is the Antichrist. The British singer/songwriter’s pinched, high-pitched voice is definitely an acquired taste, while from a musical standpoint, he suggests a watered down version of artists like Ray Lamontagne. Blunt’s debut album, 2005’s Back to Bedlam was downbeat and folky in a way that most singer-songwriters are, with a bit of a retro appeal. From a distance, you got kind of an Elton John or Cat Stevens vibe from him. His acoustic-flavored ballads could have been made in 1975… or 1985… or, well, you get the picture.
While the sensitive singer-songwriter will never go out of style, most of them don’t have hits like Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”. The ubiquitous ballad became the first #1 single by a male British artist in a decade. While purists rolled their eyes at the song’s sappy lyrical sentiment (fellow British singer-songwriter David Gray called the song “dreadful, staggering nonsense” in a magazine interview), Blunt was appearing on Oprah, selling three million records, dating models, hanging with Puffy and becoming a Hollywood scene regular. Take THAT, brooding songwriters!!
The fact that neither of the two other singles from Bedlam really took hold with a mass audience also means that Blunt is now tagged with the label “one-hit wonder”, MTV award and five Grammy nominations be damned. All the Lost Souls is the perilous follow-up release for Blunt. Will this album keep him on the fickle music industry’s A-list, or will the sophomore slump wreak havoc on this release and toss Blunt onto the large pile of musicians who have failed to capitalize on initial success?
Well, I’ve gotta at least give Blunt props for not sticking exactly to the same old same old. All the Lost Souls has a less-folky, more pop/rock vibe, with elements of genres from country to electronica. Part of the album was recorded in the holiday capital of Ibiza, Spain, although don’t expect an album chock-full of party anthems. Don’t think for a second that Blunt doesn’t know where his bread is buttered. “Same Mistake” is a fairly obvious rewrite of “You’re Beautiful”, only Blunt neglected to write an actual chorus and instead, coos in falsetto for the hook. I found it pretty easy to sing along with-only when I did, I was impersonating a dog howling.
Not to say that this album is awful, but there’s definitely something lacking here. Blunt’s voice is quite the acquired taste, and nothing on here really stands out or connects from a thematic or lyrical standpoint. Nothing really hits the heart; it’s all very precise and workmanlike, and… well, boring, to be honest.
While not particularly exciting, songs like “1973” (the album’s first single) at least provide a diversion by offering beats you can tap your foot to. This is a good thing, because the ballads just seem to pile on slabs of corniness and false sincerity. However, I’m not quite sure where Blunt was going with a song reminiscing about the year before he was born. “Give Me Some Love” has a slightly crunchy guitar stomp—it rocks harder than anything else on the album, which is all relative—it’s like the hardest-rocking song on a Christopher Cross album. However, lyrics like “Why don’t you give me some love/ I’ll take a shitload of drugs” almost completely capsize one of the album’s more interesting tunes, with a Beatles-esque arrangement and even some pedal steel near the end.
While All the Lost Souls will very likely appeal to the exact same folks who made Blunt’s first album a success, I listen to this album and can’t help thinking that this has all been done before-and better! Tracks like “I Really Want You” just rehash the clichés that singer-songwriters have been working with for the past decade, right down to the faux-electronic embellishments. All of this is to say: there’s really nothing that makes Blunt unique, nothing that justifies his standing over the other folks who make similar music. The man got lucky with a hit single, Oprah came calling, and you know the rest. Something tells me that without a perfect alignment of the stars (or another phone call from the Queen of TV), Blunt’s going to find that sophomore jinx pretty difficult to beat.