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Published: Sunday, 10/8/2006

James Blunt, former British Army captain, reflects on his success

BY SCOTT MERVIS
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Take a glance at the pop charts and what you ll find is a lot of booty songs and very few people wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

James Blunt dared to do it, and has gotten mostly the best and just a little of the worst of it.

The British singer-songwriter s bleeding-heart single, You re Beautiful, went to No. 1 on the charts, driving sales of his debut, Back to Bedlam, to sales of more than 10 million worldwide.

On the flip side, it s a weepy ballad about seeing his ex-girlfriend on a subway train with another man, and it s been played to death, so there s the inevitable backlash. In fact, this year Blunt, who appears at Playhouse Square in Cleveland Oct. 18 and the Fox Theater in Detroit Oct. 19, placed fourth in a British survey of the most annoying things in the U.K.

I was really [angry] about that, Blunt says in a recent phone interview from Spain. I ve never come in fourth in anything. And I m really upset. Who beat me?

Actually, it was cold callers, queue jumpers, and caravans (which could make a good song title in the future).

Those things weren t contenders when he went to No. 1 on the charts in the United States in March, making him the first British artist to do that since Elton John in 1997.

It s surprising because there was some great music, and there s no reason why it shouldn t translate there, Blunt says of British artists. I don t know the answers. I did record the album in Los Angeles. Maybe recording it there gave it a slightly more American feel, but that s just a guess. Maybe the songs I sing aren t particularly oriented around where I grew up and stuff. They re pretty much song ideas that anyone could relate to.

Blunt, 32, was born in Wiltshire, England, and before becoming a pop star had a previous life as a captain in the British Army, serving in Kosovo during the NATO peacekeeping effort. When he put down the rifle and picked up a guitar, he was hoping for some modest success on Linda Perry s Custard label. Little did he know he would become a celebrity.

It s come as a complete surprise, he says. I wanted to do music because it was my form of expression, and I wanted really to maybe sustain it as a career, so I needed a few people to enjoy the album. But I had no idea it would connect the way it has. I wanted to be a musician. I didn t consider myself wanting to be a famous musician, so it s taken a bit of getting used to. But people are warm and welcoming, and I hope people treat me like a normal human being because celebrity is a very human construct. It doesn t really exist.

Despite being about a breakup, You re Beautiful is becoming a popular wedding song.

That s what some tabloids report, Blunt says. I don t know who s doing the research, because I ve never been to a wedding and seen someone walking around with a clipboard writing down what they re playing. But it s a nice compliment if people take the songs that mean a lot to me and use them for their own lives.

One song that is particularly meaningful to him, and somewhat out of step with the rest of his record, is No Bravery, a song that documents the devastation he witnessed in Kosovo.

That was the first song I wrote on the album, and I wrote it in 1999 during the bombing campaign. It s the only song I ve written about my situation over there. I don t know if I will ever write another song about that, but I think I will definitely refer to my experience in different songs a line here, a line there, rather than a complete song perhaps.

As a former officer, he is often asked about the current U.S. and British conflict in the Middle East. He offers a careful answer.

Having not been out there, he says, I don t think I can answer comprehensively. My experience in Kosovo is that whatever I read in the press wasn t the full picture, and whatever the politicians told us wasn t the complete picture, either. Only when I got into Kosovo did I understand fully what was going on. What I do hear from friends coming back who are serving there and some of them haven t come back is that they don t feel particularly welcome in those other people s countries. If you re not welcome, maybe you should be questioning why you re there.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Scott Mervis is pop music critic for the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: smervis@post-gazette.com.



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