Top Of The Pops

James Blunt left the British army for music stardom

Music

October 12, 2006|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

All James Blunt wanted to do was make an album.

For himself.

The singer-songwriter-musician says he didn't care whether anyone else heard it. So when his January 2005 debut, Back to Bedlam, rocketed to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, selling more than 2 million copies, he was ecstatic but overwhelmed. Seemingly overnight, the former British army officer was touring the globe playing to packed houses and performing on Saturday Night Live and Oprah.

"I drink a lot more now, but I'm surviving," says Blunt, 32. "It's been a mad experience, but we're having a great time."

Earlier this year with his heart-exposed ballad "You're Beautiful," he became the first British artist in nearly a decade to reach No. 1 on the American pop charts. (Elton John was the last to do so with "Candle in the Wind 1997.") Tomorrow night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Blunt will perform cuts from his mostly melancholic debut.

About his misty-blue lyrics, he says, "Life has its ups and downs, and you have to appreciate the downs to appreciate the ups. I would describe the album as miserable with a dash of hope. It has a mix of emotions."

But it's the wounded, if melodramatic, tunes that dominate Back to Bedlam. Blunt's somewhat affected falsetto underscores the sentiments of the pleasantly melodic tunes, which are backed by bright, unadorned soft rock arrangements. The performer's unabashedly sappy sound leaves itself wide open for parody. Although Blunt admits that his approach may not be for everyone's tastes, he says the feelings in the songs are genuine.

"I guess perhaps we all share the same emotions," he says. "We're all just trying to survive, and I guess that is why so many people can relate to these songs."

Before his singing career exploded, Blunt continued his family's long history of military service. He was born James Hillier Blount in Tidworth, Wiltshire, England, in 1974 (though early press materials claim his birth was three years later). After graduating from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Blunt became a commissioned officer in the Life Guards regiment. He eventually rose to captain and served in the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Kosovo. That was about the time he wrote "No Bravery," the last song on Back to Bedlam.

"Those experiences affect the way I look at the world," Blunt says. "I saw humans at their most extreme and least passionate. And I've seen the opposite of that. All of it influences the songwriting."

He soon grew tired of life in the military, and after four years of service he pursued music. Blunt says he didn't dream of being a pop star necessarily. He had a growing batch of tunes he wanted to record. The opportunity to do so came in 2003 when he met songwriter-producer Linda Perry at the South By Southwest conference, where Blunt performed. She immediately signed him to her Custard label, which, at the time, didn't have a distributor.

"There was definite pressure," the singer says, "but it was pressure I put on myself. I didn't expect anybody to hear it. The finished product I loved."

And so did millions of others once Custard struck a distribution deal with mighty Atlantic Records. Blunt's new life as an international singing sensation certainly beats dodging bullets in combat.

"Actually, there are some similarities between being a musician and being a soldier," he says with a chuckle. "I toured the world in a tank as a solider. I tour the world on a tour bus as a musician. Neither is particularly glamorous."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

See James Blunt at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, tomorrow night at 6:30. Tickets are $29.50-$49.50 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting ticketmaster.com.

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