James Blunt – Back to Bedlam

Already a media darling back in his homeland of Great Britain, singer-songwriter James Blunt has finally made his long-threatened stateside debut. I had first heard of Blunt when he was featured in Rolling Stone’s fairly recent “Artists to Watch” feature—he caught my attention for the never-ending comparisons to the immensely talented Elliott Smith, and Irish wunder-fellow Damien Rice. Both comparisons are actually pretty accurate; but his voice holds an almost spot-on similarity to one of the most overlooked talents in indie music today: Angie Aparo.

As I mentioned earlier, heralding from England, Blunt garnered his label-contract nearly directly after leaving the British Army. He traded in his gun for a guitar; and the grueling life of military service for the grueling life of a touring musician. Taking everyday heartache, as well as vague-ish political woes and critiques into account for song fodder; Blunt delivers quite an entertaining collection of songs. Sadly, accompanying this album across the continents also comes the hype that Blunt has garnered in Europe as the ‘next-even-bigger thing than before.’ But, I’m happy to say that once you rip all the press kits, Rolling Stone spotlights, and comparisons away; a strong record, and a strong musician really does lie at the heart of this project.

If I’m not mistaken, the second track on the record, “You’re Beautiful,” is being released as the first single. I can’t seem to argue much—the song is both catchy and strong; and makes a fair introduction to Blunt’s direction and style. Clocking in at an average ten tracks, there are barely any truly weak tracks to be found here. The album opening “High” is slightly lacking but still enjoyable, and the mid-album tracks hold up well enough after repeated listens. True highlights include “Tears and Rain,” a fairly simple, but truly heartfelt tune. Also, the album closing “No Bravery;” a song about the war fields he so recently left. Slowly sung to the base of growing piano and echoing vocals, it leaves a haunting image long after the album’s close.

Another piano led track that stands most strong among the lot is “Goodbye My Lover.” It is just a gorgeous piece, sung with such passion, and crafted so well that it all just flows deeply. The song closes in such a passionate cliché, that it almost echoes the sentiment of the record itself. It closes with Blunt, sounding near tears, belting a line as simple as “I’m so hollow, baby, I’m so hollow / I’m so, I’m so, I’m so hollow.” A line you’ve surely heard a thousand times before, but it’s still touching on some kernel level of your emotions. The same goes for Back to Bedlam as a whole. It doesn’t bring anything new to the sound carved out by the likes of Elliott Smith, Damien Rice, or Angie Aparo. But, what it does do is bring another musician into the fray who is just as deserving to be proudly listed among the lot.

(Atlantic Records)