James Blunt has stories to tell in ‘Once Upon A Mind’

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Grade: 3.5/5.0 

James Blunt’s evocative sixth album, Once Upon A Mind, encapsulates the journey the artist guides you through in his song “Cold”: “Built a little boat/With a sail from the memories I’ve been collecting/And I’ll hold out/For the wind to blow me, take me home the whole way, in your direction.” Blunt travels far, plunging into his relationships with his wife, parents and kids. Listeners aren’t tourists in his domain, they are in tune with his world. 

Blunt is an English artist who became famous with his singles “You’re Beautiful” and “Goodbye My Lover,” both of which are from his 2004 debut album Back to Bedlam. Through Once Upon A Mind, it’s clear he’s still keen on telling volumes of stories even more than a decade later. 

The highlight is “Monsters,” an ode to Blunt’s father, who has stage four chronic kidney disease. The vulnerability and emotional honesty is heart-wrenching as Blunt’s raw voice cuts deep: “I’m not your son, you’re not my father/We’re just two grown men saying goodbye/No need to forgive, no need to forget.” It’s a piece that’s difficult to listen to, even though you don’t know either person. 

Once Upon A Mind shines in these personal moments where Blunt addresses the most important people in his life. “I Told You,” “The Greatest” and “Youngster” stand out as vignettes discreetly capturing the dynamic of the loving connections he has made in his world. Some other tracks lie flat, however, such as “Champions,” “5 Miles” and “How It Feels To Be Alive.” These weaker entries don’t seem to fit within the general aura of his other tracks, detracting from the energy the rest of the album sets up and builds upon. 

For the most part, Blunt’s songwriting style is defined by simple, straightforward metaphors that evoke his emotions; whether that’s appealing or not is entirely subjective. In “Stop the Clock,” Blunt examines the role of time in his life, singing: “It’s like the hands of time/Are putting handcuffs on mine/And nothin’ about this is holy/It’s just killing me, killing me slowly.” He utilizes this strategy throughout the album, creating landscapes for more ideas to be birthed. 

In “How It Feels to Be Alive” Blunt sifts through his conflicting feelings about heartbreak, noting the despair involved as well as the permanent reality of feeling alive. At times, Blunt’s wistful tone is able to carry audiences to various places in his mind, displaying the song’s scenery with a vibrancy that calls one’s full attention. But this effect is stopped short within the piece by repetitive sequences and lyrics, such as the tiresome refrain of “Yeah, that’s how it feels to be alive.” 

The title Once Upon A Mind rings true — each song resembling a piece of Blunt’s mind, with all of the complexities and sentimental depth included. It’s filled with the abstractions and longings that fluctuate within our heads, merely searching for a way out, but often finds itself stuck between thoughts that don’t flow easily from one to the next. 

Contact Cameron Opartkiettikul at [email protected].