James Blunt and the boy least likely to at Massey Hall (60 Simcoe), Tuesday (March 21). $29.50-$39.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
New superstar James Blunt is the ultimate sensitive alpha male, a fact that I'm convinced contributes directly to his popularity. Dudes, he's the first solo male Brit to top the U.S. charts in nine years. The last was Elton John, with his Candle In The Wind remake.
And you just know it isn't men buying the albums, except sensitive men and men who want to appear sensitive so they can get into pants. A former captain in the British Army (he comes from an army family), Blunt served on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, where he patrolled Pristina by day with his "guitar bolted to the outside of his tank."
He's the buff, brave, barefoot poet, the hunky hero with his heart on his sleeve. He'll save a life, kick some ass, buy you tampons on the way home, fuck you blind, make you dinner and write a sonnet about your eyes all in one day. His hair is tousled, his lips pouty.
Blunt laughs when I present him with this theory, though I suspect he knows there's some truth to it and that it's also the reason his name has become Cockney rhyming slang for you- figure-it-out in some circles. (They're just jealous, baby. Come here and let me hold you... sorry, my hand slipped.)
"I'm not overly sensitive," he tells me on the phone from Heathrow, where he's about to board a flight.
"If you ask me about certain things in conversation I really struggle to find words, but I find I can capture what's going on in my head in song. I think most men have it in them, but finding a way of expression can be difficult. Being British, I find talking about things like feelings very unnatural. But music opens up communication for me."
The album is titled Back To Bedlam, and the single that grabbed our nation's attention, You're Beautiful, is his third. It's a lament for a relationship that will never be. Elton John, with whom Blunt shares a manager, has likened it to his own Your Song.
"I think I paid him to say that," says Blunt. "I'm not worthy of the comparison."
Not bad for a guy who grew up in a house without a stereo.
"We spent a lot of time outdoors. But I had a lot of musical training on different instruments."
Blunt plays piano, guitar and Wurlitzer, among other stuff, on the record. He discovered rock at boarding school, because that's where Brits discover stuff. He decided to become a professional musician at 14, when he took up the electric guitar. The army stint was a digression. His dad, apparently, made him join.
Most of the (mostly co-written) songs on Back To Bedlam are heavy- handed and melancholy. Blunt has seen pain. He feels hollow. He's watched a loved one die. It's a bit of a downer, really. But if Blunt's high-pitched, moany vocal style can be irritating, it can also be wildly compelling for its raw emotionality. And I've found myself really liking that Beautiful song.
Despite its popularity, however, Blunt says it's far from the most meaningful song on the album.
"It was a two-second moment of catching someone's eye, and while it was a meaningful moment, there are other songs on there that have meaning that goes on for a lifetime or are about heavier subjects. Still, I'm really glad it works on radio and draws attention to the complete album."
It does appear that, sensitive or not, Blunt has been affected by the things he's seen and lived. So, after witnessing life in a war-torn country, how does he feel about the Western fascination with celebrity and now being a part of it?
"It's totally obscene. On a simple level, there are doctors and nurses and firefighters and other people who do jobs that are worthy of far more credit, while musicians drive around in swanky cars.
"Beyond that, there are so many people around the world who need a bit of attention and love and compassion, yet people are worrying about whether I'm wearing fashionable trainers [running shoes] or trying to get pictures of who I'm shagging. It's not healthy."
So is he going to keep it up?
"Yeah. I focus on music. And I don't let it go to my head. We're all very similar and we're on the planet at the same time and share many hopes and fears and dreams, so we need to recognize that and look out for each other."