James Blunt – ‘Who We Used To Be’ review

James Blunt is one of the UK’s most successful singer-songwriters and he’s been present in the music scene since the release of his huge-selling debut album ‘Back to Bedlam’ in 2004. Across his career to date, Blunt has released six studio albums, three live albums and greatest hits collection ‘The Stars Beneath My Feet’. Alongside his music, Blunt has become well-known for his self-deprecating social media posts where he frequently engages with his detractors, showcasing his brilliant sense of humour and his ability to take criticism in his stride. Four years on from his last album ‘Once Upon a Mind’, Blunt is back with his seventh studio album ‘Who We Used To Be’.

It’s interesting that almost 20 years into his career, Blunt is still dismissed by his critics as a ballad singer with his breakout hit “You’re Beautiful” often used as a stick to beat him with. Had those who seem to have so much to say about him, actually listened to any of his output since ‘Back to Bedlam’, they’d know that Blunt frequently pushes his musical boundaries. Like any artist, he’s not content to simply record the same album every time he goes into the studio and his tendency to experiment shines brightly on ‘Who We Used To Be’. The album’s lead single ‘Beside You’ has a stomping beat that veers into dance territory and it’s a million miles away from the balladry that people like to pigeon-hole him for. It’s a strong entryway into an album that moves through musical genres and reinforces that Blunt is anything but boring.

The album opens with the moody ‘Saving a Life’, a song that sees Blunt airing his frustration about trying to help someone who clearly doesn’t want to be helped. It’s atmospheric and in stark contrast to much of the music contained on the record. The tempo picks up on the beat-driven ‘Some Kind of Beautiful’, which marries Blunt’s falsetto vocals with a pulsating EDM-beat that demands to be played loud. The juxtaposition between the singer-songwriter feel and the upbeat pop tracks is present throughout the record. ‘Last Dance’ shines a spotlight on Blunt’s yearning vocals while an almost hip-hop beat plays out in the background.

One of the highlights on the record is ‘Cold Shoulder’. The song brings to mind Blunt’s past hit ‘1973’ with a harder, moodier beat and a catchier chorus. Lyrically explores the cooling off of a relationship that seems like it’s on the verge of ending for good. ‘I Won’t Die With You’ is lyrically similar but this time, Blunt is defiant as he refuses to be dragged down by a partner who has given up. The album’s starkest moment is ‘Dark Thought’, a song that finds Blunt dealing with the death of his late friend Carrie Fisher (it was Fisher’s house where Blunt wrote “You’re Beautiful”). It’s emotional and there’s a feeling of regret running through the song’s lyrics.

The deluxe edition of the album features four additional tracks starting with the piano-led ‘Confetti & Roses’. That track takes the listener to more familiar territory and while it’s perfectly enjoyable, it pales in comparison to the final track ‘When You’re Gone’, which is a slow-building dance track. That song is one of the strongest on the album and it’s a shame it didn’t make the cut for the regular edition of the record.

‘Who We Used To Be’ is unlikely to change anyone’s minds about Blunt as the chances are that 20 years in, people have set their opinion. For fans of the singer-songwriter though, this album is the freest Blunt has ever sounded and he’s clearly making the music he wants to make, and that he enjoys. His energy rings out from the record and there’s plenty of variety here to make it an album you’ll want to keep going back to. Whatever era of Blunt is your favourite, there’s something for everyone here and Blunt has crafted a solid pop album that his fans are going to love.

Credit: 679/ Warner Music UK

Track listing: 1. Saving a Life 2. Some Kind of Beautiful 3. Beside You 4. Last Dance 5. All the Love That I Ever Needed 6. The Girl That Never Was 7. Cold Shoulder 8. I Won’t Die With You 9. Dark Thought 10. Glow 11. Confetti and Roses 12. Care a Little Less 13. A Thousand Lives 14. When You’re Gone Record label: 679/ Warner Music UK Release date: 27th October 2023 Buy ‘Who We Used To Be’ now

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