Let's be blunt about James Blunt

NEW ALBUM: Moon Landing.
NEW ALBUM: Moon Landing.

A few weeks before his tour to New Zealand, in a rain-lashed hotel room in Toronto, James Blunt considers the fact that a great many people he's never met seem to hate his guts.

"People love to have a go at me," says the English singer, his voice as weightless as you might expect from his songs.

"And it's a little bewildering, because these people don't know me at all. Really, I'm not who they think I am. In fact, I had a far better stage name early on. I called myself Dirty Little Blunt, but then my label demanded I change it."

HEADING DOWNUNDER: James Blunt in action on stage.
HEADING DOWNUNDER: James Blunt in action on stage.

I wait for a laugh to show he's joking, but Blunt carries right on, establishing his credentials as a misunderstood dark horse.

"I'm most famous for a couple of big songs that aren't reflective of what I'm really like. People say I'm a romantic because of Goodbye My Lover, but that's about a desperately sad, failed romance. And Beautiful is a song people play at their weddings without realising it's about a drug-addled lunatic stalking a stranger's girlfriend on the subway. Really, that guy should be arrested!"

So - James Blunt, by his own estimation, is not who he seems.

Some might say that's just as well, because he seems to be something of a nob. This, after all, is a man who produces music so bland, so wet, so lacking in risk and bite, it makes Coldplay sound like Metallica.

His 2004 debut album, Back To Bedlam, sold 11 million copies, despite being crammed with sentimental ballads full of secondhand Christian twaddle about wise men and angels, delivered in an anaemic falsetto.

This is a man who once admitted a deep respect for the late Margaret Thatcher.

A man who plays up his "sensitive soldier" schtick, banging on about his years in the British Army, allegedly driving through Kosovo with an acoustic guitar strapped to the outside of his tank.

Now 40, this is a man who embraced every rock star cliche upon becoming famous : The permanent three-day stubble, the mansion in Ibiza, the chalet in Switzerland, the actress/model/heiress trophy girlfriends, the dalliances with airheads such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.

And it's not just the general population who treat Blunt with disdain; other famous people like to put the boot in, too.

Noel Gallagher from Oasis once joyfully described unwrapping Blunt's severed head on a TV talk show. Lily Allen opined that "James Blunt rhymes with his surname".

Even former British prime minister Gordon Brown gave the guy a hard time: "I was asked to choose between James Blunt or Arctic Monkeys. I said I didn't like either, but at least Arctic Monkeys would wake you up."

But in person, Blunt is a pleasure to talk to: Thoughtful, funny and articulate, with an easy laugh.

And this more loose and likeable side of his personality has been on display over the last few months as Blunt has been fighting back against the haters online, engaging with abusive Twitter trolls with such self-deprecating wit that many have been forced to reassess the guy.

"The superstar's tweets have become an online sensation," observed Britain's Daily Mirror recently. "And transformed pop's Mr Boring into a cult hero."

Note the insertion of "pop's Mr Boring" there; even when they're praising the man, they give him a backhanded slap. But yes, his tweets are funny.

"F*** you, James Blunt," wrote @alif-novaldi, to which the singer replied "I'm sorry, but you'll have to get to the back of the queue".

Another aggro punter:

Easy spelling mistake as K and L are right beside each other. RT @lizziea1: I want to kick James Blunt... repeatedly... I dont know why

— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) October 24, 2013

After a digital homophobe claimed "my grandma called James Blunt a queer", he replied, "Only coz I turned her down".

And when @blackeyelined sought a public vote on the question "Who's the bigger twat, Robin Thicke or James Blunt?",

Blunt saved his detractors a job:

Me! Me! Pick me! RT @blackeyelined: Who is a bigger twat: James Blunt or Robin Thicke?

— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) October 22, 2013

A tweet from @laurenlyall demanded to know why Blunt insisted on warbling as if "his willy is being stood on". Blunt shot back:

Damn thing's always getting caught under my feet. RT @laurenlyall: Why does James Blunt sing like his willy is being stood on?

— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) October 16, 2013

To a disgusted digital blurt of "F...... James Blunt!", Blunt cunningly inserted this question: "What would you like to be doing right now?"

Another Tweeter observed that "James Blunt has an annoying face and a highly irritating voice". Blunt: "And no mortgage."

Someone else wrote: "Holy c...... christ, your music makes me want to cave my own skull in with a hammer!". "Be my guest," replied Blunt.

Yes. He could start tweeting you. RT @MigsterMMA: Jesus christ, James Blunt's got a new album out. Is there anything else that can go wrong?

— James Blunt (@JamesBlunt) October 20, 2013

So why does Blunt start tweeting these people? The online rule-of-thumb is to never feed the trolls, it only encourages them.

"I do it because many people writing unkind Twitter comments think what they're writing is fact, and forget to focus on the real world.

The real world is me playing in front of 10,000 people who've bought CDs, travelled a long way to get to a show and queued up for ages because they like the music.

The Twitter world is a guy in the shadows, in his bedroom, writing five nasty words, while he probably has his trousers around his ankles.

He didn't even make the effort to pull his trousers up and come along to the venue to say he didn't like the music in person. How lazy is that?"

It's possible, of course, that Blunt's merely a skilled PR manipulator, latching on to Twitter as a handy tool by which to mitigate his negative public profile.

After all, he's well versed in the mechanics of manufacturing and maintaining celebrity.

Blunt even gained a sociology degree from Bristol University with a dissertation entitled The Commodification Of Image - Production Of A Pop Idol.

Still, his tweets seem spontaneous rather than carefully stage-managed, and given the saccharine earnestness of his music, it's refreshing how gleefully juvenile they are, full of dick jokes and quips about his wealth and sexual prowess.

"Well, for me, having spent time in the army, that sort of humour comes easily. And, really, you can't take negative internet comments seriously. As soon as you shine a light back on these guys, they usually s**t themselves but, really, I hope they see my replies being good-humoured rather than nasty," he says.

"My main point is that the Twitter guy with his pants around his ankles is in the minority. What's important is that I'm coming down to play in New Zealand and there's gonna be sh**loads of people there, having a fantastic time. Surely that's far more significant than an angry stranger writing something nasty on some digital site that doesn't even exist in the real world."

James Blunt's fourth studio album, Moon Landing, is out now. His Moon Landing World Tour touches down at Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre on Tuesday, May 27, and Auckland's Civic Theatre on Wednesday, May 28.

Sunday Star Times