Although he’s always maintained a moderate level of popularity in Europe, James Blunt is still known as a one-hit wonder here in the States. His hit? 2004’s inescapable “You’re Beautiful,” a song which critics loathed but the masses adored. I always found it amusing that it became such a bit hit because on the album the lyric actually goes “you’re fucking beautiful.” So, thousands of people who bought the album expecting the sweet song they heard on the radio were treated to a profanity-laced version instead. You have to admit that’s pretty funny, that all of these middle-aged housewives who thought he was some sweet little Brit bought the album for that song they heard him do on daytime television only to discover that the album version was full of the F-word. But what I liked most about “You’re Beautiful” was the simple fact that it was a lovely, sentimental ballad and that album version with the F-word was brutally honest.
Apparently knowing that ballads are what he does best, Blunt opens “Moon Landing” with such a song, “Face The Sun.” But first we hear the sound of a motorcycle driving by. You’d think we’d hear the sound of a moon landing or space shuttle launching or something to that effect, given the album’s title, but, no, we’re treated to the sound of a motorcycle. That said, that motorcycle is the only blemish on the otherwise perfect song. If you liked “You’re Beautiful” or any of Blunt’s other ballads, you’re sure to fall head over heels for this one, which finds Blunt singing tenderly, laying his heart bare, during the slightly melancholic verses. It’s not an entirely depressing song, however. It’s actually meant to inspire one to carry on, if I’m interpreting it correctly. “And God knows it’s hard to find the one / But in time, all the flowers turn to face the sun,” goes the uplifting chorus. And after we hear that chorus the second time, drums crash into the picture and guitars erupt with fervor and it proves to be quite the epic song.
The mid-tempo tune “Satellites” begins with flourishes of strings and an R&B-flavored beat before James gets sentimental. “It seems that everyone we know / Is out there waiting by a phone / Wondering why they feel alone in this life,” goes the bridge. The chorus wonders if we’re all just satellites before, “For all we know life’s just a dream / Who the hell knows what it means / Stop the world and sing with me.” To be sure, it’s a bit more laid-back than your average sing-along song, but it’s no less likeable for that.
If you are on the market for something you can sing-along to, you’re sure to dig the lead single “Bonfire Heart,” which meshes Mumford-style percussion and earnestness with a big chorus straight out of pop 101. That it’s pop-infused should come as no surprise as the track was co-written by Blunt and hit-maker Ryan Tedder, who also produced the track. “People like us / We don’t need that much / Just someone that starts, starts the spark in our bonfire hearts,” goes the first part of the chorus, which you might find yourself singing along to the very first time you listen to it.
The very next song also has heart in the title. It’s called “Heart To Heart” and it’s just as peppy and contagious as “Bonfire Heart,” which probably has something to do with the fact that it was co-produced and co-written by Daniel Omelio, otherwise known as Robopop, who’s worked on such gems as Maroon 5’s “Payphone” and Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games.” “You should know / We see eye to eye, heart to heart,” concludes the insistent chorus. But what really makes the song is the call and response style of the verses, which has Blunt’s lead and backing vocals going back and forth, as though he’s having a conversation with himself.
The album’s saddest song — in a good way — is “Miss America,” which is about the late Whitney Houston. “Did someone give you something to help you ease the pain? / Like the liquor in the bottle, we watched you slip away,” goes the sentimental beginning, which Blunt sings tenderly. But halfway through the song it grows even more dramatic — as it erupts like “Face The Sun” — with boisterous drums, blazing guitars and potent strings. “There’s another voice singing in heaven’s choir tonight / To fill the silence left behind / And I don’t know what goes on in your mind / But I’m sure it’s enough to make you cry,” Blunt sings, almost angrily. Clearly, he was quite distressed by Houston’s downfall and eventual death and he holds nothing back here. Unfortunately, the quiet moments here are probably too downtrodden for pop radio here in the States, but I can see this being a huge hit in the rest of the world.
Elsewhere, “The Only One” is like Blunt attempting to do a Maroon 5 song, though it wasn’t co-written by Robopop but Wayne Hector, the man responsible for almost all 30 of Westlife’s hits, including seven number ones. Also noteworthy is “Sun On Sunday,” a slow, piano ballad that remains soft and vulnerable throughout the song, never erupting into something grandiose like the other ballads on the album. And by that point you’re sure to find the nuanced little song refreshing.
Blunt might not reinvent the wheel here, but he’s clearly at the top of his game and it turns out he can make some fucking beautiful songs.