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James Blunt - Back To Bedlam Review
by Shannon Taylor

It's hard to describe James Blunt or his music without falling prey to many a cliché or hyperbole. Kid from the UK serves in the army then makes an album of movingly sincere ballads which make a huge impression on his homeland and Australia, thus allowing him to enjoy phenomenal, chart topping success. However, in this case, the music Blunt is making does really deserve and warrant the hype surrounding him. Strangely enough, even with his music being all over the radio here in Australia, I cannot begrudge the fact that Blunt is truly talented and has made himself a damn good debut record.

The album starts off with the gentle acoustic strumming of Blunt's first single "High", which is a slightly over-produced but nonetheless strong song that really sets the tone of the whole album. "High" shows off some of Blunt's strongest lyrics with lines such as "Beautiful Dawn - You're just blowing my mind again/Thought I was born to endless night until you shine." The next song is the heartbreaking ballad "You're Beautiful", which has to date offered Blunt a number one hit in both Australia and the UK. The song is catchy, but not annoyingly so, whilst conveying depression and adoration without resorting to the sappy, maudlin lyrics employed by most current chart-topping balladeers. The third verse does feel slightly tacked on however and doesn't seem to flow as well as the preceding verses, but as a whole the song doesn't suffer too badly from its awkwardness. With "Wisemen", the sensitive Blunt makes a departure to allow for his more vitriolic side to shine. "Goodbye My Lover" brings Blunt back to all his previous sensitive glory with a seemingly tearful lament on lost love. The lyrics hold poignancy in their simplicity for example "I'm a dreamer, but when I wake/You can't break my spirit - it's my dreams you take" while this is the first song on the album where Blunt's voice really shines. In "Tears and Rain" Blunt manages to sound like he is on the verge of tears with every line he delivers, while maintaining a steely reserve to be strong. Lyrically, this song holds some of the albums high points with lines such as "How I wish I could surrender my soul/Shed the clothes that become my skin/See the liar that burns within my needing." However, the pseudo-intellectual repeated reference to Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray in the chorus does seem forced and unnecessary.

The second half of the album is probably not as strong as the first half, but it still does possess some quality music. "Out of My Mind" is not one of the strongest songs on the album as it feels unfinished, almost like a demo tune; moreover the song definitely does suffer from chorus overkill. "So Long Jimmy" sees a departure from the signature sound dominating most of this album with some slight reggae leanings, and while the song is reasonable, it is a bit of a throwaway. "Billy" is not a great song, but it has an incredibly catchy, infectious chorus which does make up for the pedestrian verses. The next song "Cry" reaches the previous heights of the first half of the album, and could easily be the best song on the disc. "Cry" is quite the atmospheric song, with the plentiful production not detracting, but enhancing Blunt's vocals and lyrics. The uplifting lyric of "Cry on my shoulder/I'm a friend" coupled with the wall of sound-esque backing vocals are incredibly effective, while the overall themes of redemption and compassion are utilized well. The closing track "No Bravery", has a very strong anti-war presence, and while it is a commendable effort - the song feels slightly out of place, with the lyrics perhaps trying too hard to be political or relevant to the current social climate.

Overall, this album isn't perfect, but it is definitely up there with the best of 2005. Blunt takes the tried and true formula of the sensitive singer/songwriter and injects new life into it by making catchy, radio friendly songs that actually have some meaning and substance.

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