By Elizabeth Zakaim
Most of us probably haven’t heard from James Blunt since his widely received single “You’re Beautiful” back in 2004, which people either loved or couldn’t stand.
While his voice hasn’t grown that much since that song and other hits like “Bonfire Heart” and “Goodbye My Lover,” the release of his new album, “The Afterlove,” on March 24 was not as painful to listen to as I thought it would be.
Blunt steps out of his comfort zone in an attempt to serenade us with a more bubble-gum pop sound that, while not perfectly suitable for his voice, does let you explore a side to Blunt you’d never think you’d see.
The album opens with “Love Me Better,” a sassy comeback song about how he’s better than the people who have put him down. He even references his well-known classic in his lyrics, singing, “Saw you standing outside a bar/Would have said you’re beautiful, but I’ve used that line before.” It’s a fresh sound –– it’s something confrontational and brave, which adds some dimensions to the singer’s repertoire.
At the ripe old age of 43, Blunt makes himself a central heartthrob on the track “Bartender.” The admittedly faster pace and more upbeat message surrounds Blunt’s plea with the bartender to help him fall back in love with his sweetheart.
“Can you pour me some love?” he asks, which is reminiscent of Usher’s theme in “DJ’s Got Us Fallin’ in Love” back in 2010. Two very different artists, yet Blunt may be channeling his inner Usher in an attempt to sing about the feverish club life he so desperately attempts to navigate through in the rather new age of EDM, Skrillex and technopop.
The mood, however, shifts again in “Time of our Lives,” where a calmer, yet slightly autotuned Blunt reminisces on the early days of love, meeting his lover’s parents for the first time and seeking their reluctant approval. The soft electric guitar gives the song a nostalgic feel, which goes a long way in painting the story of Blunt crooning to another girl about her beauty and how much he loves her.
“California,” the sixth track on the album, is Blunt’s most blunt attempt at entering into the impenetrable world of pop. The song is about living in the present, seizing the moment and not worrying about tomorrow –– all long overused messages delivered to us from other artists with better breath support and more original lyrics.
Both “California” and “Lose My Number” sound too much like tired pop songs. The beat drags and Blunt swallows his words as he sings “California” almost as if he’s less invested in the song than I am. A well-played synthesizer would have done both songs much good in terms of diversifying the sound and keeping both Blunt and his listeners awake throughout.
Blunt’s album has reminded me that every artist must find their own voice, and I just wish he would work harder to find his niche instead of trying so hard to fit in where he musically doesn’t belong.
It’s true, I haven’t heard from Blunt in years, but did I really want to? Despite all of his sharp “s’s” and whiny falsetto notes, the singer, while perhaps better left in 2004, did inspire me with his triumphant new album. Blunt unintentionally reminded me of the importance of stepping out of my own comfort zone and that lesson alone makes it worth giving the album a try, if not a full listen.