A music review is a rare thing – much easier to write than getting it published. If you write it, you ask yourself three questions: who’s gonna publish it? Who’s gonna pay for it? And, who’s gonna read it? Around October and November, and things are a bit heavy at university that you don’t even think you’ll get to be asking yourself such questions, let alone trying to answer them.
With many albums dropping out nowadays – and all-too-frequent surprise albums – there are a couple of things that made me finally listen to Once Upon a Mind. Unless you’re way too young – or much later than the reviewer – you’ll probably know the singer. It’s James – James Blunt
It wasn’t gonna take me long to know they guy had a new album out, considering that my three tech devices were forever connected to the internet. Take the notifications on my Sony Experia I had to contend with. As I removed all news notifications, I couldn’t get the courage to swipe the James Blunt new album notification away. All this was leading me to effortlessly type the words “once upon a mind” in the YouTube search box. Google always wins. Surely, one of its bots had established that there was something that connected me to James Blunt.
Once Upon a Mind is a decent album. There are two good songs on the album: “Monsters” and “5 Miles”.
What I liked about “Monsters”, is its the piano and piercing vocals (it’s as if the guy’s heart is going through some pain). It’s a sad song. The simple rhyming scheme is formulaic, but 51 seconds into the song, you’re suddenly stung by a lyric that goes like:
I’m not your son
You’re not my father
Those eight words are what the song is all about – the estrangement between father and son. (You can scrape the rest of the songs on the album).
“5 Miles” is a much happier tune. On this track, Blunt relies more heavily on a thumping beat. He’s done this on one of his previous albums, and while that may be a sign of a musician trying to stay relevant, when it works, it works. Here, there are words that grab you as well.
I’ve really got a real fast car with the keys in.
The phrasing “Fast Cars”, as many will know, was long monopolised – if not created and brought into popularity – by Aunty Tracy Chapman. Any song with a fast car in it is a nod to her. But, James Blunt is not the only artist eating off Tracy Chapman and her iconic song. Not only did Passenger make a cover of “Fast Car”; he even created a video for it.
There’s nothing really new a man who’s been singing for at least 15 years can say. The subject of “Monsters” is the ill-fated relationship with his father. And having been in the music business for that long, James Blunt can’t be faulted for knowing the formula of cooking up hit songs. Ultimately, the formula goes like this: create, release, rinse, repeat.
There are similar lines in “Monsters” and “Goodbye My Lover”, a song from his first album (Back to Bedlam), where Blunt addresses the tension between him and his departing girlfriend.
In “Monsters”, he tells his father:
I know your fear and you know mine
It’s word-for-word with “Goodbye my Lover”, in which he sang:
I know your mistakes and you know mine
How people consume music has changed from 15 years ago when I was a teenager and Blunt first came out. In those days we burned CDs, and I remember burning a copy of Back to Bedlam for a relative of mine.
For a moment, while listening to Once Upon a Time, I thought I should burn the said relative of mine a copy, but then I remembered: a link is all I need to show I’m thinking of them. How people find initially come across music is another thing; one has to stumble through various social media feeds.
Back in 2004, when James Blunt’s debut (Back to Bedlam), came out, there was no Facebook then. (Well, it was probably in its first year, but I’m not sure South Africa and the world looked a tiny bit of what it looks now.)
Radio called the shots in those days. It was a big deal to be played on radio. It was all you needed to cut through the competition and the clutter. In Blunt’s case, it was through his cheesy “You’re Beautiful” that he captured our young hearts.
Music was literary back then. All you had to do, say you were a musician in the States and your name was Akon, was release a sad song and slap “Lonely” on it and pepper the word in the lyrics, and, then, have the masses sing along “So lonely!” These days you need a bit of imagination, or do you?
The guys killing it these days, to name one, is The Passenger. I have a feeling James Blunt has come to take his throne back from the younger fellas. But, it’s not a competition, really, since a listener is likely to confuse James Blunt’s music for the Passenger’s and vice versa.
On the whole, and having cut, pasted and remixed his way to stardom and success with “Old Town Road”, pop music in 2019 is in Lil Nas X’s hands,
It’s good to have Blunt back. Once Upon a Mind will cheer (or sadden?) his old fans.