More Beautiful Blunt
James Blunt’s Moon Landing has all the heartfelt vulnerability you’d expect from the fellow who sang, “Goodbye My Lover,” on Oprah. But if you thought Blunt could only pull off sentimental tearjerkers like his 2005 hit single, you’re only half right. That’s just where he excels. Blunt’s latest album is proof that he can be a pop act, too, with a full band. But we can’t commence to sorrowing quite as readily as we’d like to, with all that drum and bass and those catchy melodies.
This is Blunt for the Now Generation. He’s sped up the tempo, embraced simple but catching melodies, stylized his vocals. The punchy pop piano song, “Heart to Heart,” has enough whoas and jaunty handclaps to make The Lumineers feel flattered. “Bones” has a steadily pounding beat, warm synth strings and piano chords that ring out dramatically until the explosive chorus. It’s all quite stylish. But when Blunt repeats certain phrases like “Can you feel it, feel it, feel it?” one can’t help but suspect he’s modeling his vocals after Ellie Goulding. By following the lead of today’s hottest stars, Blunt falls off the path down which we would sadly, gladly follow him.
Despite its desire to sound popular, Moon Landing has down-to-earth, touching moments where Blunt shines. “Sun on Sunday” is the kind of stripped down piano ballad we want from him; the kind that will make your heart hurt if you let it. The song climaxes with a Celine Dion-style key change that is as subtle as a Celine Dion-style key change can be. Cue sneezing into a kleenex.
Blunt’s standout attribute is not exactly a musical one. He’s profoundly sincere; that is, he sounds like he feels every word he sings. That’s why he’s most affecting when acoustic. The best way to accentuate his heartfelt voice is with silence. There’s a perfect example of this on Moon Landing. Blunt, perhaps aware of his strength as an acoustic performer, and not wanting to abandon that completely for a more radio-friendly sound, included two versions of “Miss America.” This is his tribute to the late Whitney Houston, with whom he shares an uncanny ability to cause uncomfortable swelling in the throat. One version features a band, sweeping strings and background vocals. Then there’s an acoustic version, a mere bonus track, featuring Blunt and his piano. If only it were songs like this heartbreakingly candid rendition that Blunt chose to place under the spotlight, perhaps Moon Landing would feel more grounded.