"I've been on a bit of a roller coaster," says James Blunt, in his typically dry, British understatement. Two albums, two world tours and 18 million records sold later, Blunt has taken a journey that few ever experience. Now, with his compelling new Custard/Atlantic album "Some Kind of Trouble", he's back home.
The album is delightfully upbeat and uncynical. "It captures a bit of the mood of the early '80s. There was a global atmosphere in the West that we could do anything – the same optimism we felt as teenagers," says Blunt,. 'Some Kind of Trouble' really captures that same sense of freedom and excitement and naivety."
Blunt's first album, "Back to Bedlam," catapulted him into worldwide superstardom on the strength of such massive songs as "You're Beautiful," "High" and "Goodbye My Lover." His second album, 2007's "All the Lost Souls," debuted at No. 1 in 10 countries, selling nearly 5 million copies globally and featuring such hits as "1973," "Same Mistake" and "Carry You Home." He has received numerous awards and accolades including two Brit Awards, two World Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, an MTV European Music Award and five Grammy nomination.
Blunt now sees the first two albums as a pair of book ends –action and reaction. "Some Kind of Trouble" starts a new chapter. "The second album was quite introverted. It was about perception. But these new songs are not about fame and celebrity – they're about reality," Blunt says. "I've been hanging out with my friends, writing songs about the world we live in, and where we want to go."
Produced mainly by Steve Robson, key tracks include the bittersweet "These are the Words," the trenchant, pointed "Superstar" and the infectious "Stay the Night," a sexy, acoustic-guitar driven, party song about "singing 'Billie Jean' and mixing vodka and caffeine." Written by Blunt, Robson, and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, the song also shouts-out to the legendary Bob Marley, referencing the reggae master's "Is This Love." In addition to collecting his first (and likely last) co-write with Marley, "Stay the Night" marks the first time Blunt has written with two other songwriters in the same room or started songs from scratch.
Indeed, a sense of freshness and spontaneity pervades "Some Kind of Trouble," which Blunt recorded largely in London. "Previously, I would write a song and we'd go and record it later. This time, it was very much come in with nothing," Blunt recalls. "There was a sense of energy and excitement, to just have fun in the studio and make a noise. We did that and felt natural." In addition to Robson, with whom he wrote the majority of the album, Blunt also wrote with The Bird & the Bee's Greg Kurstin, Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin, Wayne Hector and "All the Lost Souls" collaborator Eg White, with whom he wrote the brash "Turn Me On," which will probably dispel the idea of Blunt as "Mr. Sensitive". "People expect me to be quite a serious person, who takes life and myself seriously, and that's not really the case," he says. "Maybe they'll see another side in this album?"
That doesn't mean the "Some Kind of Trouble" is scared to tackle some heavy topics. The album's anchor is "No Tears," an unsentimental ballad about "the summing up of a life," Blunt says. "There are certain songs along the way that are milestones - that define a writer to themselves. Goodbye My Lover was that song on the first album. Same Mistake was from the second. No Tears is my milestone on this album."
In this tabloid-driven age of overexposure, Blunt fervently wants the music to have the first and final word. "I have a Twitter account which my label and management want me to do and I can't engage with it in a way they want me to," he admits. "They want me to say 'I'm eating this for breakfast' and I'm upset about this in the world today.' The world wants public figures to over-share and I don't feel comfortable doing it, so I kind of enjoy the way the songs try to speak for themselves."
It's not that he's not concerned about world events, it's more that in this self-absorbed world, he is an artist who realizes the world does not revolve around him. "With so much attention, it's easy for musicians to think too much of themselves and their position in the world," he says. "We're not worthy of that kind of self consideration." In fact, Blunt feels the best use of celebrity is to use it to shine the spotlight with those doing good. As he had done on previous concert treks, on his 2008-2009 globe-spanning tour Blunt raised funds for Doctors Without Borders, the international medical humanitarian organization whose work the Sandhurst graduate witnessed first hand as a British military officer stationed in Kosovo. He also works closely with Friends of the Earth to increase awareness of climate change.
Indeed, as much as he loves making new music, for Blunt, the ultimate joy comes from playing the songs live and sharing them with an audience. And with a new tour starting in 2011, he's looking forward to getting back out there. As the recording process comes to a close, he's waiting to climb back on the bus. "Put the album out and get me on tour," he says. "We're going to have the time of our lives playing these songs."