The ex-public school purveyor of broken-heart ballads took the music world by surprise with his massive success. Will the former squaddie's stranglehold on the charts continue?
Born James Hillier Blount, he began his education at the exclusive Harrow School and then completed it at University of Bristol (where he first studied engineering and subsequently read sociology). Blount continued the family military tradition and attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. As part of the Household Cavalry, he rose to the rank of Captain and saw service as part of the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo. He was even called upon to guard the Queen and stood guard at the Queen Mother’s funeral. He left the service in 2002.
By 2003, he had made the trans-Atlantic voyage to pursue his musical career in Los Angeles. It was at this point in time he started using the stage name Blunt (‘Blount’ is pronounced the same way and remains his legal surname). He was signed to Linda Perry’s (ex-4 Non Blondes singer, songwriter/producer for Pink, Courtney Love and Christina Aguilera) newly formed Custard Records. While recording in LA, he lodged at the home of Carrie Fisher (Star Wars). Blunt had been introduced to Fisher by his then girlfriend’s family. Fisher offered up a room in her house when she heard Blunt was heading to the US to work on his music.
In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Carrie Fisher said "He'd never been to therapy and I've had enough for both of us, so we started talking quite deeply about his time in the army and the kind of impact that had had. And so on. So I was kind of his shrink/landlady." Fisher’s bathroom was even credited on Blunt's debut album thanks to its old piano that was used to write the track ‘Goodbye, My Lover’. ‘Back To Bedlam’ (2003) generally flew under the British music media’s radar for a while.
2004 saw Blunt hit the road as support act on an Elton John tour and release his debut single ‘High’. Despite the song receiving a significant boost thanks to an Italian Vodafone commercial, it wasn’t until the release of this third single that the world took notice of the young singer/songwriter.
‘You’re Beautiful’ made it to the top of the UK singles charts, and was played ad nauseam on British radio. A Europe-wide hit, ‘You’re Beautiful’ also crossed the Atlantic and hit the US top spot, the first Briton to do so since Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind 1997’. With ‘Back To Bedlam’ eventually selling 11 million copies worldwide, Blunt won Best British Male Solo Artist and Best Pop Act awards at the Brit Awards in 2006.
Blunt’s second studio album, ‘All The Lost Souls’ (2007), received massive press coverage and subsequently amassed mixed reviews. The Rolling Stone waggishly commented that Blunt showed “a gift for drabness on forgettable ballads that make Coldplay seem like the Arctic Monkeys.” However, Billboard.com begged to differ, marvelling that “there's not a misstep throughout”.
The Guardian called the album a “model of ruthless efficiency”, and complained that Blunt was “following a successful formula a little too mechanically for his own good, as if he's ticking boxes.” It’s hard to disagree: ‘All The Lost Souls’ does not differ radically from ‘Back to Bedlam’ either in sound or lyrical content, as the New York Times put it, “gentle guitars and piano, breathy vocals, melodramatic sweep, a slight tinge of morbidity”. Having your third single, ‘Carry You Home’, written by teen-pop guru and hit-single extraordinaire Max Martin – the songwriting genius behind the highly original, wonderfully crafted and impossibly saccharine radio-friendlies by the Backstreet Boys (‘I Want It That Way’), Britney Spears (‘Baby One More Time’), Kelly Clarkson, Bon Jovi (‘It’s My Life’) – surely can’t hurt either.
Blunt was reportedly unhappy about being identified solely by his mega-hit ‘You’re Beautiful’ and pleaded with Lyor Cohen, the domestic chairman of Atlantic’s parent company, the Warner Music Group, to avoid pushing any single too hard and to emphasise the new album as a whole. Cohen was unsympathetic: “Ultimately we’re not as romantic…You need to get the impressions at radio to bring attention to it…We will license these records, in movies, TV and commercials…Trust me, you will hear these records.”
He has released two more albums since: 'Some Kind Of Trouble' (2010) and 'Moon Landing' (2014).