EVER since he released that song James Blunt has been an easy target.
Yours truly must confess to having been responsible for taking the odd cheap shot in the past, not least because of the simplicity of some of his earliest lyrics.
But as the well-spoken lad with the army hero back story prepares to sing to a sold out Sheffield City Hall tomorrow we have to revise our opinion slightly, not least now he’s more at ease with speaking to journos who berated the likes of breakthrough hit You’re Beautiful.
“I’m much more relaxed than I was the second time round,” he says, referring to All The Lost Souls, follow-up to his massive-selling début album Back To Bedlam.
“I felt like I wanted to fight every journalist I spoke to. I felt quite defensive. It wasn’t very healthy, really. I just didn’t want to be asked questions about it, to have to explain myself, even talk about songs. I just didn’t want to talk about why or what that particular song meant to me. I thought there are enough words in it. If I wanted to explain it more I would have put in a third verse.
“I struggled with the actual nature of talking and being open. As men we’re not very good at talking like that.
“This time round I feel much more relaxed about it.
“When you stop worrying about it or fighting against it life becomes so much simpler.”
Eighteen million record sales later, James returned with third album Some Kind Of Trouble last autumn.
A largely upbeat collection, it connected with the bookend nature of preceding albums that had him playing the world’s arenas.
“The first was an innocent album that did something remarkable and the second was very much a personal album which I needed to write to process the whole experience. It was a darker album, really, without its innocence.
“With this one... I stopped touring and doing music a while ago to hang out with my friends and avoided the whole thing for many, many months.
“Then when I eventually found myself in a studio rather than just me on a guitar writing a melancholic song I was really enjoying it, playing the electric and up tempo stuff.
“It’s kind of found its innocence again and I’m writing songs with optimism, which is an unusual word to associate with my music.”
That said, even without the weight of expectation, Blunt struggled to begin the process when he needed to and it was ultimately a collaboration that got the wheels rolling again.
“I did try to sit down and write a third album and stopped pretty early on because I wasn’t that inspired,” he recalls.
“After touring for a straight two years and before that coming straight out of an album and another world tour I hadn’t had time off.
“So I’d try. I went to the piano and played the same four chords and they didn’t sound that inspiring so I’d walk away and the next day I’d come and do the same.
“I did that for about four months. Those people living in the house with me were starting to go mad so I stopped and hung out with my mates.”
Blunt eventually worked with Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic and Kevin Griffin from Better Than Ezra, but the real kick-start came when his drummer introduced him to musician Steve Robson.
“He was playing a piano so I picked up an electric guitar and we wrote a song called Dangerous. It came as a surprise, but very naturally. It felt naïve, optimistic and energetic, like those teenage years when we thought we could do anything.
“So I said ‘Can I come in tomorrow and record it?’ and we did. The next day I came in and wrote another and recorded that, and the day after, and the days turned into weeks. He ended up producing it so those weeks turned into months and after just over a year I stepped out of the studio.”
James quips: “His wife was very jealous of the time I’ve had with him, but rather than me writing these dire songs in my room on my own they’ve had this upbeat optimism from sharing the process.
“I’ve always enjoyed the naivety of my music because that’s where the honesty comes from so I don’t necessarily aspire to work with people, but then some things come more spontaneously.
“If you look for it, it can be harder to see. And when you don’t, some things can turn up and just fall into place.
“I just write songs as I feel and put them out and whatever comes of it I’m game. You wouldn’t put music out if you were too worried about what people say.
“I’ve had great positive feedback along the way, but I’ve had some very negative feedback, and if I became afraid of that there’d be no point putting stuff out.”
OF course one thing Mr Blunt doesn’t have to worry about is finding cash to pay his gas bill – then again, he does live in Ibiza.
Having time away from the spotlight has presumably given him a chance to sample relative normality after what has been an extraordinary few years that have included dating a handful of tabloid-friendly female celebrities.
“I hope I’m pretty good at dealing with it,” he says of that side of his life. “It took a bit of time to get used to and, of course, there are times I found it hard. I’m very comfortable with it now and as I’ve always said ‘I’m just a singer and musician.’ I’m not doing anything that incredible. There are doctors and nurses and policemen and teachers who do a far more amazing job’.”
And, of course, his former colleagues in the armed forces, few of whom will get to leap from the dusty roads of Kabul to the planet’s pop charts.
“You’re going from one mature job to quite an immature job,” he says of his transition. “This job is based around very immature ideas of adoration, of image and perception and what’s fashionable.
“What I found tough was going from a job that was to do with life and death to one that was to do with something I didn’t understand. Sometimes that’s what I found frustrating about it, but I guess that’s what also allowed me to keep my feet on the ground - that and friends’ ritual abuse of me.”
One thing is for certain, tomorrow’s comparatively intimate Sheffield fixture is likely to be among true fans.
“I enjoy the changes really. The smaller venue means more intensity and that’s great. I prefer standing venues because I think people are normally surprised by the energy in my concerts, even more so with this third album. If people connect with it and enjoy it we’ll see how long my tour lasts.”
He may even get another chance to guest alongside The Muppets, as he did on Sesame Street in 2007. “If I’m lucky, yes, although Elmo hasn’t called me for a while.”