What’s the point of a pop star releasing a music compilation today when streaming services already do it?
It’s a question James Blunt had to figure out while working on The Stars Beneath My Feet (2004-2021) over the course of the pandemic. Aware of the number of official and user-generated playlists dedicated to his work, the former English soldier-turned-successful singer-songwriter changed tack from releasing the traditional compilation of singles to include live recordings and up to four new tracks.
Such an approach not only represents a more compelling picture of a 15-year career, he says, but an opportunity to right some wrongs.
One of which is No Bravery, a stirring single from his 2007 debut album Back to Bedlam that has been a source of discomfort ever since its release.
Blunt replaced the official recording with a live version for the BBC.
“I never quite nailed it at the studio,” he says before his show in Dubai at Coca-Cola Arena on Saturday. “It is an important song of mine because it’s about my experience in Kosovo in the war in 1999.
“The recording on my album is not quite there. But I eventually did a performance for the BBC in London which was mind-blowing. You can really see I'm living that war at that moment.”
Another sore point is the tender ballad Monsters from the 2019 album Once Upon a Mind.
"I was really sad the record label never made it as a single and put it out on radio," Blunt says. "The song is about a guy who has children and realises his father is unwell and who hasn’t got much time left on earth.
“It's about seeing the full circle of life and it's one of my proudest songs to have written and recorded. I even got my father in the video."
As well as these welcome additions, The Stars Beneath My Feet (2004-2021) also feature a string of bona fide hits that made Blunt a household name in the UK.
Heart on his sleeve
As well as being the best-selling album in the UK over the 2000s, according to the Official Charts Company, Back to Bedlam also had five hits – all of which are in the new compilation – including the chart-topping You’re Beautiful.
While the ubiquitous track went on to receive the inevitable backlash, Blunt recalls it took mettle to express himself so openly in song.
"I suppose people often give me a little bit of a ribbing along the way and say you're a bit soft, over-emotional and a bit sensitive, but for me, this is what music is supposed to be," he says.
"It's about unadulterated emotion without fear of exposing yourself and that takes a certain amount of courage."
The king of Twitter
Blunt has no problem expressing himself on Twitter.
His cutting and acerbic replies to derogatory remarks made him an online sensation with programmes such as The Graham Norton Show dedicating segments to the best Tweets. Such was the attention that Blunt published How To Be A Complete and Utter Blunt: Diary of a Reluctant Social Media Sensation in 2020, a memoir tracking a year spent on the platform.
But the singer is wary about his online notoriety.
"I am grateful that Twitter was invented because before I was frustrated when I put music out and I had no way of replying [to the reactions]," he says. "Twitter was my voice direct to the people but I was only dealing with negativity. I would say to most people in the world: 'Don't go to social media to find positivity. The real world is a much nicer place'."
It’s no wonder Blunt is looking forward to travelling to Dubai for the opening show of his new world tour. With the UAE part of the tour’s European leg lasting until July, he is under no illusion about what crowds want to hear.
“They don’t want you flogging your new music. They want the stuff they know," he says, with a chuckle. “At the end of the day, I've put out six albums and I will play the best collection of songs from these. I am really confident about these songs and it's going to make for a really fantastic show."
James Blunt performs at Coca-Cola Arena, Dubai on Saturday, January 29. Doors open at 6pm. Tickets start at Dh150 from coca-cola-arena.com