James Blunt: Is He As Sharp As Once He Was?
Nostalgia is always a winner in a comeback tour – but can it really prolong a musical career?
Although it’s debatable to whether James Blunt’s 3-month stint around the world was purely fuelled by the success of Back to Bedlam in 2005, it is certainly a key factor in his popularity. Blunt has spent a considerable effort (see his twitter) in promoting his new album, The Afterlove, with his savage tweets earning him an online respect as a cult figure. However, connections and networking also played a big role in the progression of both Blunt and his support Jamie Lawson, with Ed Sheeran being name dropped twice as a co-writer and for Lawson, as a boss. Despite an initial apprehension, I was surprised by the large turn-out and filling of the Motorpoint Arena for an artist who has been absent from the charts in recent years.
Jamie Lawson’s ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ was popular following its release in 2015 and widely recognised, which opened the gig with an air of anticipation for the solo artist. Despite coming across as a lovely and approachable man (he welcomed anyone who wanted to chat to him at the merch stand), his music was a disappointing middle-of-the-road amalgamation of pop and folk with the essence of Mumford and Sons. ‘Can’t See Straight’ was a highlight as it embraced the country vibes with its catchy chorus and clichéd romantic lyrics and kept the energy up. Lawson’s attempt at splitting the arena and making them sing different harmonies was ambitious, highlighting an uncomfortable feeling of his relative anonymity compared to Blunt but, the set was enjoyed by the audience with ambivalence to his inoffensiveness.
Blunt played up to his status as a joker in the digitally altered images of Putin and Trump wearing his merchandise, to the gleeful sniggering of the audience. However later in the set, he surprised all with his overtly political ‘Someone Singing Along’ aimed at Trump and his controversial views – a sign of a pointed awareness outside of t-shirt sales.
As a performer, Blunt had impeccable energy and was pivotal to getting everyone dancing at a seated gig. The faster and club-like songs of ‘OK’ (his collaboration with Robin Schulz) and ‘Bonfire Heart’ were reminiscent of recent Coldplay releases; there was a sense of trying hard to be current, yet a refreshing acknowledgment of the older audience, which some bands still appear to be in denial of. The obvious inclusion of ‘Wisemen’, ‘Goodbye My Lover’ and ‘You’re Beautiful’ were a celebration of his past successes; his joking of the latter being used as a wedding song was again, a show of his self-awareness of his popular status. The interaction with the crowd had the air of a comedy sketch and it was that it became clear how Blunt has been able to keep people interested, with his personality.
The gig drew to a close with everyone in good spirits, as the fuzziness of nostalgia kept emotions high and the last remains of banter offsetting it with laughter. Yes, Blunt’s new music may not be as popular as his older material but who can blame him for repeatedly capitalising on what was frankly, an iconic album, if it keeps the fans happy?
Photo Courtesy of Pomona PR