Perfect Sound Forever

JAMES BLUNT


Assault with a Blunt object
The guilty pleasures of an uncool geezer by Paul Flaconer


If you have to put any effort into being cool, then by definition you ain't cool. This claim applies to the anonymous, amorphous hordes of music consumers and fans - you and me. The great artists themselves such as the ageless Bob Dylan need no effort whatsoever, or as with Pink Floyd their inherent creativity simply shone through their heavy production values. Some others , it could be reasonably argued, were just tragic try-hards. Yoohoo U2!

For the rest of us, we either had it or we didn't. Speaking as one of the 95% who missed out on the cool gene, my efforts just went into keeping my poor tastes to myself because i could not afford much in the way of retailed camouflage - a Triumph Bonneville with leather jacket or a collection of extraneous albums that were edgy, and de rigeur but seldom played symbols of membership of the with-it crowd.

What i could not afford either, financially or dignity-wise, was to indulge my secret shame - those beacons of bad taste and grievous ghastliness, the crappy but catchy musical mucus of my youth. But now, in my geezerdom, I am freed from the shackles of all pretense. I am a member of a demographic whose hipness relates only to surgical joint replacements and I will freely admit to a fondness for some egregious examples of noisome noise. Herewith a confession from a shameless fogey and a defense of it.

I wonder if James is maybe a pretty sharp operator; shamelessly mining an opportune niche of aural kitsch. Whereas R&B, R&R and C&W are crowded with artists, S&M (Schmaltzy and Maudlin) offers perhaps a greater opportunity for recognition and hence reward given its lower entry requirements ala merit. I have my suspicions. To paraphrase HL Mencken, "nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public" and there is a studied daggyness to Mr Blunt.

Dag is a slang term, also daggy (adjective) often used as an affectionate insult for someone who is, or is perceived to be, unfashionable, lacking self-consciousness about their appearance...yet affable and amusing. Wikipedia
A template from Ed Sheeran, a saccharine-infused, gloomy reprise of Bobby Goldsboro or Barry Manilow? Blunt's songwriting suggests such artifice. Teary, whiny lyrics from a Sandhurst-trained captain in the British Life Guards and a Kosovo veteran? Why was that muscular, manly believability entirely foregone? But wait... are those figurative panties and old ladies bloomers being thrown at ex-captain Blunt? Indeed - tens of millions of dollars worth! There's gold in them thar hills of turgid banality and if it takes pap to extract it then pap it shall be? One cynical take on that perspective was "A pop star who knows his music is shit but equally knows that his fans aren't discerning enough to realise that."

Am I being cynical? Blunt has been subject to some justifiable salvos of jeers and teases such as "Why does James Blunt sing like his willy is being stood on?" and "Blunt is too often defined by a persona that has so far failed to counteract the creative equivalent of dad-dancing." NME magazine even nominated his song "You're Beautiful" as The Very Worst UK Number One Single of All Time. It's his good-humoured reactions to such detractions that makes me pause and ponder. Would a Harrow-educated, upper middle class ex-military white boy be openly embraced by crusty music critics who have their own cred to protect?

But then my personal icons of cool, Pink Floyd, are also middle class white boys. The Floyd though were genuine, ground breaking, innovative virtuosos who established themselves in the London underground scene; a distinct contrast to the sombre, contrived blancmange of teen angst that I thought we'd seen the last of once Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" had faded from the charts.

While Blunt makes himself an easy target, he does face the fusillades without a blindfold. He's not fooling himself and he's not really trying to fool anyone else, but his wit doesn't carry over into his songs and that's a shame. A bit of subliminal "up yours" would help his palatability as shown by the wide approval of his responses to the Twitter sledging he gets -

"My real name is James Blount, but I changed it as people teased me that it rhymed with count."

"I probably deserve a bit of a kicking. And having been to boarding school, I've learnt to enjoy a good beating."

"Nope, you're on your own" in response to "I must be 1 of only 2 who genuinely likes every @jamesblunt song. The other person being him."

"Omfg, James Blunt is on the TV downstairs, can today get any worse?" Blunt: "Coming upstairs now."

A lot of public commentary on Blunt has a common theme: "Nice chap. Shit songs." "Sounds like a great bloke to have a pint with in the pub, but you wouldn't want him on the jukebox." There's a wonderful demonstration of his ability to take the mickey out of himself, and his detractors at the same time, in an advertisement he made for Lotto in the UK available on YouTube. Based on that alone, I am prepared to park my inherent cynicism and accept that he's a genuinely nice bloke, albeit one who has confessed to poor taste by revealing he has sweet corn on his pizzas.

Blunt's music can reasonably be critiqued as waiting room muzak overlaid with trite lyrics sung in a poshly-accented mewling falsetto should you be seeking affirmation of your own coolness. For those of us in a demographic that no longer cares, I will suggest that such perspectives are cruelly unkind. On a scale of 1-10 for artistic merit Back To Bedlam may not rate that highly but for simple listening pleasure, I give it a 7. If I had been capable of producing something like "You're Beautiful" in my youth then I would've got laid a lot earlier. In most male's minds then that alone deserves acknowledgement of the merit of that particular song.

Anybody baulking at the notion of giving Back to Bedlam a spin should consider dipping their toe into it via less controversial alternatives. Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars," Norah Jones or perhaps Tracy Chapman? None of these should cause any discomfort - admittedly hipper than Blunt but not worlds away in terms of style. If you can listen to them then you can listen to "You're Beautiful" without any fear of developing a fondness for the bland and banal - you'll just be expanding your tastes, much like adding sweet corn to your pizza; tacky but tasty.

There can be no doubt, sans any supporting data, that James Blunt's musical appeal is to the post-pubescent female demographic. Most males are dismissive but they should reconsider the positives beyond just the music's potential value as a knickers remover. Now chaps, we know the appeal of schmaltz with an acoustic guitar to many of the women folk, and some of you will be more than happy to exploit that for a carnal benefit. But it needs to be more widely known that Elton John was an early promotor of James Blunt - and if a flambouyant personality like Elton can be embraced by tyre-kicking, ball scratching manly types then it's not a huge leap into accepting that listening to James Blunt is not an affront to your manhood. He was a reconnaissance officer in a cavalry regiment of the British Army during the Kosovo war after all.

Blunt has been hugely successful, and with his natural self-effacing wit, good luck to him. And let me be honest, I have a real soft spot for "You're Beautiful." It's the musical equivalent of mushy peas and it's about as edgy as, say, the Monkee's "Daydream Believer." But I like them both. There, I've said it.

When I play Back To Bedlam in my car, I no longer feel the need to roll up my window.



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