Those who think James Blunt doesn't deserve the masses of airtime he occupies may be right - he's not as talented as many others who somehow escape the spotlight, and his "I'm the male Alanis", Tom Cruise-lookalike charm can be irritating the 10th time you see his music videos on TV. These people would call his delivery overblown and unsubtle.
But his fans love him for his impassioned vocal delivery, his good looks, and his songwriting talents. Since Elton John numbers as one of these fans, we should at least concede that James paid his dues during his year of peddling the album at live shows before it made the charts (other sources suggest he was just waiting for his hair to grow after his stint in the military.)
But even those who thought James overrated at first, or still think he's overrated, may get something out of this live CD, live DVD double disc package. It's a cash-in of note - there are no new songs (so if you're sick of "You're Beautiful", imagine how poor James feels!) but it's a very well executed cash-in.
The DVD is mostly taken up with a BBC recorded show, for which the nerdy audience sits on floor cushions hippie style clapping and nodding and swaying while James waggles through lines "I just can't belieeeeeeeve that it's over..." with some flair. When he gets right into the mike he comes so close he seems to be dryly French kissing it. And the version of "You're Gullible" ... sorry strike that... "You're Beautiful", floats from note to note with practiced perfection. Like a butterfly that strangely resembles Rod Stewart.
After the very blunt protest song "No Bravery", James closes with a competent but dull cover of the Pixies' brilliant "Where is My Mind?" While Frank Black's classic is far and away the best song on the album, the rest stands up to it surprisingly well.
Bonus features are generous - videos for "Goodbye My Lover" (sexy), both versions of the "High" video (the buried in sand and the forest ones) as well as "You're Beautiful" (brrr!) and "Wisemen" (like a bad dream), and you can press Enter during the videos to bring up commentary.
There's also a CD of a live performance in Dublin. The naturally more casual style of live recording and the presence of more surrounding noise could broaden James' appeal. If you're thinking of buying Back to Bedlam, for yourself or a fan as a gift, don't do it. Get this instead.
- Jean Barker
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