James Blunt

Back to Bedlam

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Soulful British crooner James Blunt's wistful debut infuses the listener -- in order -- with rainy-day hope, the wistful comfort of unattainable love, and finally, world-weary resignation. While his parched and effeminate falsetto recalls Gasoline Alley-era Rod Stewart with a healthy dose of Antony and the Johnsons, it's the late Elliott Smith who casts the largest shadow on Back to Bedlam. Predictable but effective four-chord guitar motifs are the chosen vehicle for the ex-Royal Armed Forces soldier, and when they connect ("Wiseman," "Goodbye My Lover," "You Are Beautiful"), it's like a "Dear John" letter from a lover who you know will remain a close but ultimately guarded friend. Opening track "High" sets a determined midtempo pace that rarely wanes -- it's like an acoustic version of "Drive" by the Cars with a Coldplay chorus. It's a pace that would sink some records, but Bedlam's perfectly rendered, under 40-minute run time ensures that the listener doesn't suffer from a melancholy overdose. Blunt recounts his harrowing experiences as part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo on the closer, "No Bravery," and it's a shock to hear all of the romantic lyricism that informed Bedlam up to this point reduced to "Old men kneel and accept their fate/Wives and daughters cut and raped/A generation drenched in hate," but it's damn effective -- as is the majority of this fine debut.

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