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‘The Afterlove’ review: James Blunt broadens his range

James Blunt takes risks that pay off on

James Blunt takes risks that pay off on "The Afterlove." Credit: Custard / Atlantic Records

JAMES BLUNT

The Afterlove

THE GRADE B+

BOTTOM LINE Taking some musical and lyrical risks that pay off.

James Blunt knows how Ed Sheeran feels.

Back in 2006, when Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” topped the charts, he was England’s “it” guy — his face practically as inescapable as his song.

So maybe it’s only fair that Blunt’s new album “The Afterlove” (Custard/Atlantic) has a new feel thanks, in part, to his new pal Sheeran, who encouraged Blunt to let down some of the defenses he built into his songwriting after all the attention his raw debut received.

Blunt and Sheeran even collaborated on the tender ballad “Make Me Better,” where Blunt is at his most vulnerable as he sings of his family. However, the more noticeable change is how Blunt embraces Sheeran’s mix of singer-songwriter lyrics and R&B rhythms on the first single “Love Me Better.”

The new combination works, especially on the groove-driven “California,” which sounds built less for Blunt than for Justin Bieber, who could easily have handled “Lose My Number” as well.

But Blunt is still most comfortable with his ballads, and he gives longtime fans what they want with the tender “Time of Our Lives” and “Heartbeat.” That mix makes “The Afterlove” Blunt’s best since his debut.

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