Review Summary: Would have said “You’re Beautiful,” but I’ve used that line before. Now I’ll just say “Love Me Better” and wait for the next pay check.
When listeners first heard the lead single "Love Me Better" just last month, it was no surprise how polarized fans were. Some said the song was quite good, others were quite disappointed by James seemingly “selling out.” Indeed, while his last two albums were drastic steps away from his rock roots, this new song was a complete dive into the realm of modern electronic pop… And the fans did have good reason to cast the forthcoming album with a sense of wary.
The music video begins with James exiting an exquisite foreign car with purple LED lights shining beneath it (a vehicle I’m sure Mr. Blunt owns and drives quite often) and is primarily set in a club (a place I’m sure Mr. Blunt frequents quite often). The song itself is a mundane radio/club tune about James asking a girl he just met that he wants to be loved better (something I’m sure Mr. Blunt asks his wife quite often).
Now, days before The Afterlove
was released, James Cunt released a two-part video giving a rundown on the recording and thought process for recording. Right off the bat, the man is smiling with his bloody grin and a kind of nonchalance could be felt by his presence. Touching base with the strange title, James says:
“It feels like it could be positive or negative, but it applies to every song on the album. So what it means to each song, what it means to each person who picks up the album, it could mean different things.”
For the remainder of these two videos, it is abundantly clear just how proud the man is with what he is about to release with the public. Considering the vast enthusiasm he has when explaining the 10 tracks with lyrics and themes as equally mundane as the lead single. Interestingly enough, he explains how difficult it was for him to narrow down a 10 track list out of a whopping 100 tracks. With 13 official tracks (three belonging to the deluxe edition) from a 2 year recording session, one would think such a passionate and painstaking effort would be quite evident through a first listen.
Then the listener presses play and the first song on the album is "Love Me Better."
As formulaic as the songwriting is on Back to Bedlam
, at least there was some
variety. Some of the tracks sound like the opening tune "High", the others sound like the following track "You’re Beautiful," then two are piano ballads "Goodbye My Lover" and "No Bravery" bookend the ending halves of the album.
Now everything sounds like some variation of Love Me Better. Some will open with an overproduced guitar lick that loops throughout the song, others come straight for the jugular and begin with vocals; and all these songs lead into the same Breaking Benjamin-esque soaring, overproduced shlock of a chorus. At least Breaking Benjamin’s singles are good
at pulling it off because James just sounds awkward in these electronically dominated songs.
When James swears on Back to Bedlam
, he puts passion
into it. He lets
you know not a single word is going to waste and these
particular words are essential for the story’s narrative. Maybe James isn’t fooling around when he says that he’s been described as a “dick” and it has greatly hurt his feelings, but when it’s set to moody club beats, it’s just hard to take him seriously and his vocals just sound weakly delivered.
Perhaps the most memorable song on the entire album is "California" which perfectly fits James’ description of it sounding like a song in the Ryan Gosling film Drive
. Even then, as decent as the song is, the most memorable aspect of it is the throbbing chorus and that alone takes up over 2/3 of the song. The single most memorable lyric on the album “Would have said ‘You’re beautiful,’ but I’ve used that line before” from "Love Me Better" is easy to miss because of how utterly disinteresting the melody is.
The following two singles, "Bartender" and "Make Me Better" are even more boring than "Love Me Better." The songs on this album are just too hook driven that it is completely forgettable, as is the rest of the album bar. Also, that hook on "Paradise" oddly sounds a little too much like Usher’s "DJ Got Us Falling In Love Again" song from years ago. Even Blunt’s most forgettable album Moonlanding
doesn’t feel as shallow as The Afterlove
because this simply has no character whatsoever. These so called "best" tracks of the 100 poetential candidates feel like they have any sense of purpose. They writhe on the dancefloor a bit, then once they feel like they’ve had enough fun, they simply vanish into thin air.
James did say in his second promotional video where he talks about the songs on this album that Ed Sheeran told him that he should go back to what made his debut so good and be more open on these songs. To tell the listener what is really
going on in life with these new songs. The sad truth is, James has probably run out of things to say since his magnum opus All the Lost Souls
. On that album, he throws in a Flaming Lips reference with Yoshimi. Also, the meanings of songs are actually up for the listener’s interpretation. Is "Carry You Home" about James’ time serving in the military or is it in the point of view of someone losing a loved one in 9/11? Up to the listeners to decide. Is "One of the Brightest Stars" about James working hard to achieve fame and has finally done it or is it a tribute to someone he admires achieve a great dream? Also up to the listeners to decide. Now all James talks about on The Afterlove
is forgetful song after forgetful song about love and that one line that directly references a wall being taken down because politics. Maybe there can be something said about the fact that Ed Sheeran and Ryan Tedder have had a hand at co-writing a few songs but they all just kinda sound like variations of new Ed Sheeran songs. Except "Make Me Better" because every song Tedder co-writes/produces for another artist sound the same.
At this point, any dissilusioned follower of James Blunt hoping for another All the Lost Souls
or Back to Bedlam
should give up. Nearly a decade has passed with James being content with mediocrity. As hilarious as his tweets are appreciated and his self hatred for writing "You're Beautiful," Mr. Blunt is now content with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Ryan Tedder taking the wheel and turning him into not just another "white man with a guitar," but a "white man with shitty minimalistic club beats... and also a guitar."