"Now, you know I get a hard time from the press," says James Blunt towards the end of the sold-out debut show of his latest tour. "I reckon you [the audience] are very brave people; it's not a cool place to be, a James Blunt concert." He's right. Blunt's name is a critical byword for spoon-fed, flat-packed, consensus rock, and he'll never be cool, credible or any of the other adjectives with which most musicians crave affiliation.
But that's surely long since stopped being the point. With a UK and US No 1 hit in "You're Beautiful", five Grammy nominations and the support of a huge swathe of the general public, Blunt must be near or at the point where he doesn't need to care.
His live set runs more or less as might be expected. Taking turns on guitar and piano, he plays with a breathless, sweaty-cheeked earnestness, which involves standing atop his piano and advancing to the front of the stage to stir up the crowd in a Status Quo-like gesture. Such showmanship is at odds with the music, but it's really no different from the crowd-rousing posery of fellow comfort-rockers Chris Martin or Fran Healy.
Lyrically, the songs are almost uniformly borne of homespun cliché – "I Really Want You" and "Carry You Home" are two particular offenders – although the music seems designed to evoke the appropriate air of bittersweet, lovelorn nostalgia. But therein lies the problem: their design seems to take the place of a real, heartfelt quality.
Where the critics who lambast Blunt should have a working knowledge of a singer-songwriter lineage that includes Dylan, Cohen, Buckley (both of them) and in latterday terms, say, Josh Ritter or Sufjan Stevens, his audience know or care not a bit for such heritage. In this sense, his live show is an unqualified success – he gives the crowd what they want, because they're happy to take whatever he's offering.
He doesn't have to take himself so seriously, though, and the self-referential deification of "One of the Brightest Stars" is almost unforgivable.
Large ovations greet "You're Beautiful", "1973" and "No Bravery", while a cover of Supertramp's "Take a Look at my Girlfriend" is an unexpected pleasure. The other stirring moment arrives when the crowd takes over the final chorus of "Goodbye My Lover", although when Blunt returns with the lyric "I'm so hollow", it's sadly ironic.
Touring to 23 January (www.jamesblunt.com)Reuse content