James blunt: broken hearts and lost love
James Blunt talks about revealing more of himself on his new album – and his Christmas trip to Afghanistan.
Jarvis Cocker, the critically admired songwriter, broadcaster and frontman for newly reunited Pulp, sometimes gives a lecture about the art of lyric writing, during which he comically dissects James Blunt’s career defining hit You’re Beautiful. His chief complaint is that, in the first verse, Blunt sees “an angel” with another man and announces he’s “got a plan”.
“actually, now i’m interested,” admits Cocker. “He’s got a plan, so i’m going to stick with this and find out what it is.”
However, when Blunt’s song ends with the conclusion, “i will never be with you”, Cocker becomes comically incensed. “That’s the plan? Whatever other deficiencies the song may have, this is the biggest one – it’s a lie! There is no plan and there never was!”
The author of You’re Beautiful is completely incredulous as i relate this to him. “is he serious?” asks Blunt. “i think he’s pathetic for dissecting it in such a petty way. But, if he’s really seriously asking me for an explanation, well, who am i addressing? in the verses, i am telling a story to you, but, in the chorus, i am singing to her. so yes, i have a plan, and it is to tell her that she’s beautiful, to show how i feel.”
so there you go, Jarvis. The chorus is the plan.
Blunt, to his credit, is laughing as he discusses this. “it’s an absolutely straightforward plan, and one that has worked a number of times in the past. Though not on this occasion.”
Last week, Blunt released his third album, Some Kind Of Trouble. There are more songs about broken hearts and lost love, although there is also a strand of salaciousness (on the single, Stay The Night, the slinky Dangerous and saucy ditty Turn Me On) that show another side of his character, perhaps familiar to readers of the tabloids, where he is frequently linked with beautiful women.
“My mum worries about my music. she says, ‘ James, why are you so sad? What did i do wrong?’ But, in a sense, i write songs about things i am probably bad at expressing in life. i actually enjoy the great racking of the heart. But, at the same time, you’ve got to have a bit of shallow in there. Otherwise, the perception and the person are going in different directions and something will break. You’re supposed to be so delicate and romantic but they’ve seen you on a boat with another bird and some weird sex toys. as humans, we are all a bit of everything, and the album hopefully reflects that.”
in person, Blunt comes across as calm, thoughtful, considerate and good humoured. Hard to hate, really. Following his sudden rise to prominence with his 11-millionselling debut album Back To Bedlam in 2005, Blunt became a whipping post for a particularly unpleasant kind of pop snobbery. He’s posh, exarmy, and makes highly emotional, at times almost tremulously sensitive music, set to an easy-on-the-ear, 1970s-soft-rock template (think Bread, Elton John and Fleetwood Mac) and sung in a high, sweet voice reminiscent of Cat stevens. No great crimes there, you might have thought.
“i became quite defensive,” he says. “i felt i hadn’t done anything wrong. Many people liked this to a great degree – why should that be a cause of such aggression? i have to battle with that perception of me, but it’s immediately a lost battle if you’re fighting it.”
Personally, i think Blunt has been harshly judged because he is so reminiscent of the great sensitive singer-songwriters of the 1970s, but what he makes is actually a kind of emotional pop music. “i think my strength lies in crystallising quite simple emotions,” he says. “and i enjoy going out and singing to those millions of people who come, and there is a great connection that outweighs the negativity.”
The album’s highlights still tend to be songs about lost love. If Time Is All I Have stands out as a stark, heartfelt ballad of regret, with an almost Everly Brothers purity. it is, he admits, always about the same girl (allegedly Dixie Chassy, a casting director who has worked on the Harry Potter movies, whom Blunt dated long before he became famous). “Your first love is probably the most idealistic. i probably do have a sense of romantic yearning, but i’m really a failed romantic, as the songs attest.”
Despite titles such as Best Laid Plans, No Tears, So Far Gone and These Are the Words – all songs about love gone wrong – Blunt insists this is his most upbeat collection. “Things haven’t necessarily gone right, but that’s life: you’ve gone through experiences. i went on an army exercise for a week in Wales, where we climbed up mountains carrying half our body weight on our back and got maybe three hours’ sleep in a puddle full of sheep s***, and at the end of it, everyone goes, ‘That was great!’ Well, it wasn’t great, it was terrible, but the experience of going through those things has been good. Maybe you’ve learned things, you’re proud of yourself, so that’s what i’m talking about.”
Blunt’s military background (he served six years with the Household Calvary, rising to the rank of captain) is another thing that makes him seem an anomaly as a singersongwriter, although he persuasively argues that soldiers are actually highly sensitive individuals.
“You are trained to watch people and assess your surroundings. There may be danger nearby, and you need to sense who is looking or moving in a particular way and what their intentions might be, and i take all those lessons into what i do now.
“and we had to really understand emotions, too, because, if someone starts getting fearful, then they will feel aggressive and something might tumble out of control. There might be moments when we are peacekeepers, when you have to be really a diplomat, and understand the context and different sides of a story. if there are two people (intent on) murdering each other, you have to be empathetic and understand the emotion behind it in order to try to find some kind of reconciliation. so i think soldiers are much more sensitive and aware when we come back to civilian life.”
He remains in close contact with his regiment, supports the Help For Heroes charity, and often performs for troops. “i’m going back out to afghanistan around Christmas, and i’m going to sing the Taliban into surrender,” he jokes.
There are, he says, aspects of army life that he prefers to pop stardom. “i like the purity of the job of a soldier, because you’re dealing with two fundamentally clear, important things: one is life and one is death. in the music industry, you are dealing with perception and misperception, the sense of fame and image. it’s all a distraction. But i can still find that purity when i’m out on tour. i look people in the eye. i’m not afraid to go in emotionally. i’m just trying to connect with another human being when i’m singing. all the rest is nonsense.” – © The Daily Telegraph UK 2010
Emo dude: ‘I think my strength lies in crystallising quite simple emotions,’ says James Blunt.