From the moment Blunt released the teaser trailer in which he appeared naked in a bathtub, his modesty covered only by his own 12-inch vinyl, you could tell big things were coming (Pun fully intended). Well ladies and gentlemen, big things have indeed come. The master of savaging people on twitter has taken a step away from his newly found comic genius to go back to the recording studio.
Undoubtedly this album will split opinion. From a purely critical perspective ‘The Afterlove’ is bad. The music is an unoriginal blend of Bieber-esque tropical house and the lyrics are deeply uninspiring. For a man who has previously produced genuine hits and is known worldwide, the album almost feels like a parody. But isn’t that the point? Blunt is a man who is clearly aware of his un-coolness. The songs on the album are highly unlikely to break into the top 20 of the charts and yet their sound undeniably mimics such tracks. It is perhaps a stretch too far to liken the album to some form of political statement on the music industry which Blunt finds himself in, however, there is certainly a hearty smattering of irony which pervades through the album. The self-referential lyrics; ‘would have said that you’re beautiful but I’ve used that line before’ develop a theme of ironic self-deprecation which not only communicates a Blunt personality (geddit??), but is arguably refreshing in an industry where it is typical for most artists to go to great lengths to ensure their audience are well aware of just how brilliant they are through the form of song (Kanye I’m looking at you).
Blunt is a man who is clearly aware of his un-coolness
‘Love Me Better’, opens and sets the trend for the album and it is immediately obvious that this is not the same James Blunt who wrote songs about mysterious girls who smiled at him on the subway. Oh no, this is a man who has returned with a vengeance. Blunt unashamedly jumps on the pop bandwagon, the song kicking the album off with vibes that wouldn’t be out of place at Antics Thursdays. ‘Bartender’ follows, blending seamlessly into the first and providing a sound clearly influenced by buddy Ed Sheeran who helped co-write many of the songs.
Of course not all the tracks are certified club bangers. Deserving of a mention for being downright awful is ‘California’; a deeply uninspiring offering which would have any talented up-and-coming singer-songwriters desperate for a recording contract grinding their teeth. Nonetheless, both ‘Someone’s Singing Along’ and ‘Heartbeat’ provide a catchy guitar riff supplemented by a heavily auto-tuned voice and lyrics which do invoke some sympathy for a man who seems to have suffered abuse all his career despite never doing anything wrong other than producing a slightly odd pop song. Perhaps the most surprising and brilliant moment on the album is ‘Courtney’s Song’, written with the late Carrie Fisher in mind, it stands out in an album of shameless pop songs as a genuinely reflective track.
an album of textbook clangers
In all seriousness, this album is far from perfect. The songs seem to blend into one big pop mashup which play by every rule in the book bar actually being any good. However, if you just suspend your disbelief when listening to the album and have in mind the comic genius behind it, you can do nothing but appreciate the character which clearly comes through. It is a moment of clarity and self-acceptance in an industry where artists frequently pretend to be someone they aren’t; the man is definitely not a current pop singer and he acknowledges this by providing an album of absolute textbook clangers. James Blunt freely acknowledges that he is ‘proof that one song is all you need’. Perhaps he should have quit while he was ahead, but I for one respect his tenacity to continue to produce hilariously dreadful music.