In 2005, a former army captain named James Blunt made a little indie album called Back to Bedlam with producer Tom Rothrock. Blunt figured it would be a labor of love that a few in-the-know music listeners would discover being that it was produced by the same guy who previously worked with Beck, Badly Drawn Boy and Elliott Smith. But boy, was he wrong.
His debut instead ended up spawning a little international hit called “You’re Beautiful.” Perhaps you’ve heard it?
Speaking with Blunt today–nearly ten years after the release of that song–he’ll openly talk about the sad sack balladeer reputation he earned because of “You’re Beautiful,” admitting that his most well-known song isn’t even the best track off that album. That honor goes to “Goodbye My Lover,” the second single off Back to Bedlam that helped amusingly soundtrack one of Michael Scott’s break-ups on The Office. Well, the 30-second snippet that Amazon allows you to hear if you’re too cheap to actually purchase the song, which, no surprise, Scott was.
“I think I knew that ‘You’re Beautiful’ was a radio friendly song,” Blunt admitted to Radio.com. “It’s not my most favorite song on the album, and it’s not the most deeply meaningful on the album.” It’s just a song he wrote after catching the eye of a woman he didn’t know, but imagined her as an ex-girlfriend with a new man. “I did know ‘You’re Beautiful’ would work on radio,” Blunt reiterated. “But I didn’t have an idea of what it would do. I don’t think I was ever supposed to. I was an independent artist. I’m a singer/songwriter, I’m not a pop star…so all of a sudden the music being called pop was a big transition.”
The transition was a learning experience for the singer, who admits some missteps along the way.
“My first album Back to Bedlam was a very innocent album, without the concern of a music industry, without the concerns of an audience and that was its charm, maybe,” Blunt explained. “And then I went on these world tours. I took my touring band into record my second album and they brought kind of great depth and musicality to it and the third album I wrote for an audience and wrote for arena shows. It was the kind of frontman of a band playing the electric guitar that I always wanted to be when I first started doing music. And those were all great fun.”
But as Blunt explained, fun doesn’t always equal good music or in this case, fulfilling music. “I don’t know how personally rewarding they were,” he said about his last two albums. “In a way perhaps more shallow. And [Moon Landing] wasn’t as much fun in a way, to strip things way, and lay yourself bare. It’s an amazing kind of moment to find honesty and innocence again.”
Nearly a decade after the release of his debut, Blunt is working once again with Rothrock and after years of trying to write another hit song, Blunt is only worried about making music he likes.
“[‘You’re Beautiful’] took me on an amazing journey, three world tours, and fantastic experience and I kind of started writing songs for the size of audience that I was playing for, these arenas,” Blunt said. “But eventually I just kind of felt there’s only so much you can write songs for other people, you kind of get more writing songs for yourself. Rather than trying to do something for you, I’ve written for me and I think weirdly other people feel there’s more for them as well because there’s more honesty and it’s more genuine.”
Blunt says Moon Landing is perhaps the personal album he would have written if Back to Bedlam hadn’t hit the way that it did. Blunt says the record sounds old school. “It sounds nostalgic and raw and lonely,” he said.
The record also touches on celebrity and the tragedy that can sometimes go along with it. He specifically addresses this topic on “Miss America,” a piano ballad which he wrote with Whitney Houston in mind.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s her song. It’s about her amazing talent and her tragic story behind it, and really our part in that,” Blunt said. “In so many ways we had a role to play in that and the tragedy in her story is that it happens so often.”
The album also has Blunt exposing some of his own flaws. A vast difference from the other host of pop stars –e xcluding of course Lorde, with her anti-establishment pop hit “Royals” –who are singing about their fast cars and designer wardrobes.
“On American radio I hear a lot of bravado,” Blunt said. “It’s kind of braver, I think, to get up on a stage and say, ‘You know what, you’re big and strong and overconfident…I am nervous and I don’t know all the answers and I’m afraid of certain things and I do need other people.'”
Blunt is used to being defined as that sensitive singer/songwriter who wrote “You’re Beautiful” and over time, he’s come to terms with being that person.
“I’m an ex-soldier from the frontline who’s at home in that environment of all men and in a very macho and bravado environment,” Blunt said. “But real strength, comes from being confident in your flaws.”