CD: James Blunt - Once Upon a Mind
The affable ex-army officer is back with more MOR angst
James Blunt loves to joke about how gloomy his songs are and he says Once Upon a Mind is his most depressing collection yet. But the truth is that the album is really just agonisingly safe and painfully middle-of-the-road. (For the most part) Blunt has stared into his dark night of the soul and turned it into something beige and inoffensive.
Partly it's the voice. That thin, strangely inert warble. It's also Blunt's tendency to treat every subject as a melancholy singalong. You might imagine a song about your relationship with your wife, would aim for a close, intimate feel. Instead, "Cold" has a chorus that sounds like it was designed to be sung by 10,000 fans. "Champions" is even huger and more pompous.
Both tracks have been designed to evoke Blunt's debut, Back to Bedlam. And why not? It is, after all, his biggest hit to date. More surprising are the handful of songs that hark back to 2017's not-so-successful experiment in electro-pop, The Afterlove. Even with Blunt's army of co-writers, these are so anonymous, so lacking in character, they barely exist. The auto-tune on "5 Miles" renders Blunt's voice barely recognisable, and "Younger", with it's EDM beats, talks about growing old gracefully but sounds more like a mid-life crisis
It's only when Blunt sings about his ill father that he finally delivers on his promise of real emotion. "How It Feels to Be Alive" is a sprawling piano-led melodrama, whose verses nod to early Tom McRae. The most affecting track, though, is "Monsters" based on Blunt's experiences sitting by his father's hospital bed. It may be overblown, and hugely sentimental, but when Blunt sings about trying to chase his dad's monsters away, it's also genuinely moving. If only he'd lay himself bare more often.