Much like its predecessor, 2017's The Afterlove, James Blunt's sixth full-length, Once Upon a Mind, matches his familiar voice and introspective lyrics with polished pop production. As with prior efforts, Blunt's vocals are the most vital aspect of Once, mostly because they are so recognizable. Otherwise, without them, these songs could belong to anyone. With a team of pop songwriters, the 11 selections on the LP shift between catchy ditties (which sound like late-era Mumford and Sons, OneRepublic, or Maroon 5 mashed with Avicii leftovers) and plaintive moments of vulnerability that faintly hint at his hit debut Back to Bedlam. Upbeat highlights like "The Truth" and "5 Miles" briefly energize the album, while the anthemic motivators such as "Champions" and "Halfway" offer empowering singalongs. Cutting to the core, the heartbreaking "Monsters" and "How It Feels to Be Alive" deal with his father, while "I Told You" and "The Greatest" are gems of wisdom written for his children and future generations. It's all pleasant and comforting stuff, but ultimately, Once Upon a Mind plays it safe and doesn't leave a lasting impression.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung