Yes, he’s back. And you probably hate him too much by now to be bothered. That’s OK, he knows it and with The Afterlove he’s here to talk about it. What Blunt has produced with his 5th album is a fusion of his more traditional style mopey ballads with some more modern 21st century pop sounds and for the most part it has been a resounding success.
On first listen I will admit to being a little thrown by some of the new sounds featured on The Afterlove. Blunt has worked with some of the top names of the industry – Ryan Tedder, Stephan Moccio and Ed Sheeran to name but a few – and as a result songs like the lead single ‘Love Me Better’ have an instantly un-Blunt like sound. Even after repeated listens I do feel that some of these tracks don’t sit well into the overall ecosystem of the album, even if they are good tracks on their own. That aside, this is a strong album with some stellar standouts worthy of a place alongside his best from previous efforts. ‘Love Me Better’ as mentioned is the first single released from the album, and that is a pretty smart move given that it presents a head first introduction to what some of these new sounds are like. Lyrically it’s far more up his alley though, taking a swipe at those who insist on spitting shit at him online whilst also celebrating his new found happiness with his wife. ‘Bartender’ is probably the best fusion of old and new to be found here. Production -wise it is somewhere between his old and new content and lyrically it is a natural step up from the “I had you, I lost you” motifs he has become known for. A strong early track. ‘Lose My Number’ slips us back into that more Bieber-esque territory and being honest it’s the first thumbs down of the album for me, a pity that it comes along so soon and ties back to my earlier point that some tracks just don’t sit into the album properly. ‘Don’t Give Me Those Eyes’ also departs from the album’s style somewhat but in a far better fashion. Sounding like a mix between an 80s power ballad and something from a Broadway show it is a powerful track and again, lyrically, new territory for Blunt.
Next we find ourselves into the strongest sequence of tracks on the album, with one exception. First up is ‘Someone Singing Along’ which is the highlight of the album for me at the moment. Heavily influenced by recent political shifts and the general societal issues plaguing many parts of the world right now, this is how you write this song. Though it is revolving around current events, the themes of this song have been relevant for all too long now. Rather than litter it with cries and pleas of a downright miserable nature, Blunt has crafted a call to arms that also comes with a welcome, a brilliant blend of protest and unity. Next up is the misstep ‘California’. Described by Blunt as being inspired by the soundtrack to 2011’s Drive, it most certainly is but as a result it’s just sonically way out of place on the album as a whole. I’ve also got a personal dislike for songs about places that explicitly and gratuitously use a place name too so maybe it’s just me. ‘Make Me Better’ is the first of two collaborations with Ed Sheeran. This is the only one of the two also produced by Sheeran and it would sit just as comfortably on one of his albums. In interviews Blunt has spoken about Sheeran trying to coax more honesty out of his songs and it is on display here. A fantastic song right up there with his best.‘Time Of Our Lives’ is the second Sheeran collaboration, with a little input from Tedder for good measure. Describing his wedding day Blunt manages to capture and convey the scene brilliantly whilst also treading the limits of schmaltz just enough to get away with it.
The home stretch starts with ‘Heartbeat’ which could have easily found its way onto previous albums. It’s a little safe and basic, but good and catchy enough to be worthy of its place. Closing out the album is ‘Paradise’ and as closers go it’s top notch. Rumbling guitar lead lines running along the spine of the track with big sweeping vocals to take us home as the album comes to a close. A special note should also go to the extra tracks on the Extended Version. ‘Over’ is a reliably safe number but ‘Courtney’s Song’ is a hauntingly beautiful tribute to Blunt’s close departed friend Carrie Fisher. Blunt had an extremely close relationship with her even living with her for a time whilst his career was taking off and he has left a fitting testament to his and many other’s sorrow at her passing. Finally we get to ‘2005’ and I honestly can’t figure out why this isn’t part of the album. I mentioned at the start of this review that Blunt is here to address his critics and he does so brilliantly here. With lyrics that take direct aim at those who only seem to remember that one song of his, Blunt responds brilliantly to his detractors. If this doesn’t wind up being the track that goes viral of his 2017 output I would be shocked.
In all this is a solid entry from the veteran (see what I did there, huh? Huh?) crooner and sits up with Back To Bedlam in the tracks with longevity side of things. Some misfires pop up but to be honest they’re not any way bad enough to take away from the album as whole. I still don’t entirely buy it that he is just trying this style out though, without an ulterior motive. Some of the most incriminating evidence against him can be seen here in his live performance on the Graham Norton show last week. He just doesn’t look comfortable strutting around the stage singing this hip hop style. I could be wrong but I can’t shake the feeling that the guy just wants a top ten single again and so veered towards the norm instead of his older style that has maybe outstayed its welcome. Really though, if that’s true, I can’t really begrudge him that desire and more credit to him.