ADVERTISEMENT

For your reappraisal: James Blunt - 'Back to Bedlam'

James Blunt's 2004 album 'Back to Bedlam'
James Blunt's 2004 album 'Back to Bedlam' Copyright Atlantic Records
Copyright Atlantic Records
By Jonny Walfisz
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

In this weekly series, our journalists share their appreciation for an undervalued album that deserves more love. This week: James Blunt’s 'Back to Bedlam'.

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s easy to be cynical. It costs nothing of your inner-self to make a light jab. Raising your shackles and making a humourous barb against pop-culture leaves you immune to true vulnerability.

I request you leave that cynicism at the door. I’m about to defend James Blunt. From here on in, only sincere sentimentality reigns higher than Blunt’s angelic falsetto.

‘Back to Bedlam’ has a special place in my heart. I remember clearly the day I got my first CD. My sister and I were taken to a local branch of HMV and we were told we were allowed to buy any three CDs we agreed upon. Together, we came up with a smorgasbord of musical talent that sums up exactly who I am today.

The first CD was the Scissor Sisters’ self-titled debut. Good camp and kinky fun – anyone that says it doesn’t hold up as one of the best pop albums of the 21st century is talking gibberish.

The second was ‘Curtain Call’ by Eminem. Maybe it’s not held up as well, but for an 11-year-old boy growing up in London, nothing felt cooler.

And finally, we agreed on buying James Blunt’s ‘Back to Bedlam’. Of all three, it’s the one I still listen to regularly.

The white singer-songwriter bleeding over his acoustic guitar may be played out today, but in 2004, it was revolutionary. ‘Back to Bedlam’ opens with four of the strongest songs of the genre ever made. From the towering notes of ‘High’ through the iconic ‘You’re Beautiful’, the eminently singalongable ‘Wisemen’ and finishing on the funereal-classic ‘Goodbye My Lover’, Blunt hits all four bases for a musical home-run album opener.

Just because you’ve heard these songs too many times, doesn’t mean they’re not brilliant. Just as Paul McCartney knew before him, simple chords, an emotionally resonant hook, and bloody good singing is all you need for a banging set of songs.

The lasting impression of ‘You’re Beautiful’ can’t be overstated. From the slightly ridiculously uttered “My life is brilliant” that starts the song, Blunt moves into a twisted story of a fleeting love that blooms into an outright declaration of adoration in the chorus ending with a terrible admission, “and I don’t know what to do/because I’ll never be with you.” In the camp music video that accompanies the song, Blunt slowly strips as rain beats down on him before jumping off a cliff. Legendary.

Writing a song that is the most-used funeral song should get Blunt more credit too. Joining the likes of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave in the pantheon of funeral tunes with ‘Goodbye My Lover’ has to be because the posh ex-army officer has at least a bit of song-writing kudos.

Over luscious piano chords, Blunt sends off a person in the exact shape true sincere heartbreak takes.

Goodbye my lover / Goodbye my friend
You have been the one / You have been the one for me

More heart-breaking than the chorus though are the lyrics to the middle-eight. Blunt manages to capture the sinking feeling of realising that – as someone you loved dies – so too dies all the things you shared, only to be carried on through life by you single-handedly. A memory halved, is a burden doubled.

And as you move on, remember me / Remember us and all we used to be

Those are just the opening songs of the album as well. Straight after there’s ‘Tear and Rain’. For my money, it’s the best written of the songs on the album with a beautifully simple chord structure and a glorious melody in the verse.

For the rest of the album there are tons more classics. Ending with a quadruple-header of the bluesy ‘So Long, Jimmy’, the jazzy ‘Billy’, the pain-wrought ‘Cry’, and the silly-if-earnest account of Blunt’s military time in Kosovo with ‘No Bravery’.

If you’ve never heard any of Blunt’s songs, it’s likely because you weren’t in Britain around 2004 and 2005. The album rocketed to the top of the charts and was the top-selling of the 2000s in Britain. Having sold over three million copies in the UK and more than 11 million copies worldwide, it is the 18th best selling album of all time in the UK.

As you can imagine, it meant his songs were in pretty constant rotation on the radio and shops during the period. For my little geeky 11-year-old friendship group formed on camping trips with the Scouts, singing along to a Blunt tune was the de-facto way to have musical fun.

ADVERTISEMENT

To this day, I still love all the melodies. When I was learning to play the piano during the pandemic, one of the first books I bought was the sheet music to the album. While music snobs will turn their noses up at it, anyone with a sincere sense of fun will admit to loving ‘Back to Bedlam’. 

In fact, if someone claims their taste is too good for the album, consider it a red flag. No one should take themselves so seriously.

Share this articleComments

You might also like