I know that somewhere some sodette will burn this paper on reading what I have to say here. But let me blunt. Ever since I first heard the methane sound seeping out of James Blunt’s nostrils, I knew that I had discovered the decade’s biggest bad singer-songwriter. The song that made him such a pin-up, ‘You’re Beautiful’ was so irritating that tunes that would have otherwise numbed the mind, poked my head till pink blood flowed. Even as I write this, listening to the man singing a song called ‘Dangerous’ — a sheep-shagging farmer’s love song that has a kernel of Michael Sembello’s ‘She’s a Maniac’ from the film Flashdance’ — I can’t help but cringe at the thought of thousands of well-meaning people enjoying the tracks on this album, Some Kind of Trouble.
Just to not make you misunderstand me, I have nothing against nasal vocals (see next review). In fact, I would go as far to say that Blunt’s greatest virtue — after his I’ve-just-had-oatmeals good looks, of course — is his singing voice. Which says a lot about what else he has on offer. Whether it’s the melody, the music, the lyrics or the overall effect, Blunt is a sheep in sheep’s clothing. ‘These are the words’ is a song that could really work up those hot flushes in a spinsters’ symposium. It has a Lobo afterglow, you see.
In ‘Heart of gold’, Blunt goes underneath the piano chord changes and doesn’t really come up. The tune has a nice little lilt to it, the bridge almost fluttering in the wind, but with the unfortunate result of Bluntboy’s voice being drenched in violins.
‘I’ll be your man’ has the man bleating incessantly in a song that, in anyone else’s throat, would have been a nice jivey, strumalong, dum-dee-dum number. “So baby come over/ from the end of the sofa/ I’ll be your man,” wouldn’t be lines I’d use or play to get the same work Blunt has in mind done.
Some Kind of People is an album that you could gift to your second cousin just to check whether she’s soft in the head and can be taken advantage of. Blunt said not too long ago: “After the last tour, I tried writing at the piano, but I found I was repeating myself, writing sad songs about poor old me. I needed to get away from music for a while. My new songs are more optimistic.” Ha! Ha! Ha!
Like the great Madonna, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are geniuses. The two that make up Pet Shop Boys are the equivalent of Andy Warhol in the post-pop art pop world, unsmiling and serious purveyors of all things frivolous that the world is weighed down with.
Take the fifth track on this wonderful compilation, Ultimate Pet Shop Boys. Tennant and Lowe take the Brenda Lee classic (whose Elvis version rings in many of our ears) ‘Always on my mind’, a quiet, moving love song and strangely strips it of feelings by adding conga blasts, saccharine synth and deceptive monotone to tell us how powerful love, a chemical reaction in our brains at best, can be.
The 1996 Brazilian-inspired ‘Se a vida é (That’s the Way Life Is)’ takes the Latin beat indoors and makes for a rousing samba for sighing aenemics. Tennant’s drone of a nasal voice has context, reason and a powerful aesthetic power in each of the tracks in this collection.
Despite the overt campness in the Pet Shop Boys ouevre, this is no Scissor Sisters from the 80s-90s but a sound closer to the ironic handflailing clubbing music of New Order.
Whether it’s the 1990 proto-ambient ‘Being boring’ with its straight-as-an-arrow psycho-social commentary (“She said: ‘We were never feeling bored/ Cause we were never being boring/ We had too much time to find for ourselves/ And we were never being boring/ We dressed up and fought, then thought:/ ‘Make amends’.”) is never boring.
The cover of U2’s ‘Where the streets have no name’ has, in my book, aged far better than the original. Drained of blood, this track does away with Bono’s habit of ‘overfeeling’. And no one in pop music can underfeel like Neil Tennant — who in the middle of the track skateboards on to the 1967 Frankie Valli hit ‘(I can’t take my eyes off you)’ in a lovely mash-up of sorts. And when they do ‘feel’, it’s over the Sovietesque ‘Go west’. Irony never had a better beat. Just one complaint: Ultimate Pet Shop Boys doesn’t have the gorgeously sad ‘I get along’ from their 2003 album Release.
But with the luxury of time — and people like James Blunt occupying our earspace — it’s easy to see why Pet Shop Boys have my nose.