08 October, 2011

"Some Kind of Trouble" by James Blunt: A Review

 It's probably quite poetic that my first ever album review is of "Some Kind of Trouble", James Blunt's latest album that was released about a year ago. The reason for this is that James Blunt, for all his detractors, was one of the first music artists that I ever truly enjoyed. I found myself enchanted by the melodramatic melodies of the oft-chided "You're Beautiful", the emotional depth of "Wisemen" and the bluesy, regretful tones of "Billy" that are found on his debut effort "Back to Bedlam". Then when "All the Lost Souls" came out, it matched "Back to Bedlam" more than sufficiently, even briefly topping it with the albums third single "Carry You Home", probably Blunt’s most emotionally charged song from a repertoire that is full to the point of overflowing with emotionally charged songs, and which narrates a woman being told that her husband has died in conflict, and being given his personal effects, in a sense, being carried home by Blunt. 

Artists have a tendency to come unstuck on the magic third album. A prominent example can be found in Linkin Park, who released two masterful showings of nu-metal majesty before their third album "Minutes to Midnight" was released to widespread disappointment. Blunt fares a little better with his third showing, "Some Kind of Trouble", is an album that features flourishes of both his best and worst performances. The former is demonstrated in no better way than on the albums opener and first single, "Stay the Night". Far and away the best song Blunt has ever penned, it surprised many people by it's uncharacteristic departure from Blunts trademark piano driven, deeply melodramatic style. It's upbeat, infectiously catchy and shows off a truly memorable and anthemic chorus that seems to underline a subtle pang of sadness. The song narrates a perfect day in the life of a man at a party who meets and falls for a girl there, and finds himself deeply interested in her, and although there isn't a quiet corner for them to get to know each other better, he is prepared to wait, commenting that "If this is what we've got, then what we've got is gold".After things begin to wind down they find themselves alone, with morning on its way, and the songs protagonist invites his new love interest to "Stay the Night". It's a song that combines structural simplicity with deep emotional resonance and empathy. It's a wonderful song and a perfect start to the album.

Next stop is "Dangerous" the albums fifth single. This song is brimming with potential that sadly goes untapped for it's just north of three minutes runtime. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but had blunt been willing to take a few risks, much more could have been done with the songs minimalistic framework, particularly with Blunt's vocal work in the chorus, which might have lended it's self well to a more flamboyant vocal approach, which Blunt is more than capable of, but sadly it isn’t seen here. The downward slide continues with the next track, “Best Laid Plans”. Definitely one of the real low points of the album, “Best Laid Plans” is one of the least memorable songs of Blunt’s career. The piano is stale, the lyrics are clichéd, there’s no real hook to speak of, and the chorus, an area that Blunt has always excelled in, is rather underwhelming. Three songs in, and all the great expectations that “Stay the Night” had built up have fallen away, and I’m genuinely feeling worried that this is going to end up being a bad album.

Fortunately things get back on track, and we arrive at a moment of comparatively rare nuance with the albums second single “So Far Gone”. A truly strong showing, and probably the strongest lyrical showing on the album, maybe on even footing with “Stay the Night”, the song describes a formerly flourishing relationship that now Blunt is desperately trying to hold together, but finally relents after realising that he wants his partner to be happy more than himself, and so ends the relationship. It highlights the emotional depth and shows a mature understanding of the delicate balance in a relationship. The song also features a much improved piano performance over “Best Laid Plans” that serves as a good platform for the song to flow.

“No Tears” is next. The chorus and bridge really stand out here. Lyrically the song is also more than sound, seeming to describe a dialogue between between Blunt and a dying friend, possibly a young man. It’s on par with “Dangerous”, not quite hitting the heights of “So Far Gone” nor the lows of “Best Laid Plans”. It might be considered a typical piano driven Blunt song, but it’s a formula that works well here, as it has in the past.

It’s a funny thing, whenever I listen to “Superstar”, it gets a lot right, and doesn’t do much wrong. The chorus is sound, nothing wrong lyrically, a cool guitar solo, (yes, you read that right) there are a lot of good points in this songs favour... and yet, it is one of the least memorable songs on the album. I really can’t put my finger on why, the song just never really grabs me, never really gives me a reason to want to listen to it. Maybe it’s just not for me, maybe others will enjoy it more, but for me, I have to be honest, it’s one of the albums lower points.

“These are the Words” is an interesting song. The chorus in particular has a real freshness to it, a subtlety to it that always feels like it’s building up to something. Sadly, we never find out what it’s building up to, there is no emotional climax to the song that would really make it memorable. The bridge tries it’s best, but it doesn’t quite have the quality that “No Tears” had that this song really need to give it a justified climax. As with “Dangerous”, this song had a lot of potential that sadly wasn’t recognised.

“Calling Out Your Name” feels like a throwback to the “Bedlam” days. Sadly though, it’s almost pure filler, there’s nothing here that wasn’t done better on “Bedlam” or “All the Lost Souls”.  A slightly above average bridge and ending can do little to salvage something positive from this otherwise unmemorable song.

At this point, we’re more than halfway through “Some Kind of Trouble” and for all its momentary flashes of brilliance, the album as a whole really hasn’t excelled, and with four songs to go, things really need to pick up if this album is to be saved.

Things certainly do start picking up on the piano driven “Heart of Gold”. The piano does what it does best, acting as a fulcrum for the guitar and vocals to work. The lyrics are some of the strongest on the album, the chorus is moody and deep, and it offers the album a stay of execution, before it’s saviour arrives...

“I’ll be Your Man” very nearly matches “Stay the Night” in terms of overall quality, which is truly saying something. It’s the most upbeat song on the album, and while it’s one of the more emotionally minimalistic songs on offer, that in no way denigrates it in the slightest, it’s a truly empathetic number, and can be related to by anyone, which is perhaps it’s greatest strength. It’s strong vocals, anthemic chorus and ungodly catchiness makes it one of Blunt’s best ever songs.

“If Time is All I Have” does it’s utmost to spoil the momentum that the album is finally starting to build. It’s easily the worst song on the album and possibly the worst song in Blunt’s collection. There isn’t a single positive thing about it, the lyrics are uninspired, the vocals are spiritless, the melody is monotonous, and their isn’t an emotional hook in sight. The contrast between the brilliance of “I’ll be Your Man” and “If Time is All I Have” is more than a little jarring, and had Blunt chosen to end the album on this note, it would have been a real disappointment. Thankfully however, the albums closer is a big improvement.

“Turn Me On” ends the album on a high note. Blunt took a risk with ending on such an atypical song, but it works well. It’s wild and frantic, probably the closest Blunt has ever come and will ever come to making a real rock song, but he does well, the chorus is anthemic enough to cover the cracks that arise in the shape of the rather repetitive lyrics, and all things considered, It’s a more than decent closer to an overall decent album.

“Some Kind of Trouble” doesn’t fail the third album litmus test, but it doesn’t get much more than a B-, “Stay the Night”, “So Far Gone” and “I’ll be Your man” alone do enough to compensate for some of the weaker tracks, and on the whole, the album gets a reasonably safe:

Overall Track Rankings:
1.     Stay the Night
2.     I’ll be Your Man
3.     So Far Gone
4.     Heart of Gold
5.     Turn Me On
6.     No Tears
7.     Dangerous
8.     These are the Words
9.     Superstar
10. Calling Out Your Name
11. Best Laid Plans
12. If Time Is All I Have

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