Back on McFly's 'Obviously', I paused to muse over popular music's fondness for songs about the unobtainable female (or male, I guess, let's not be sexist). I suppose the classic example of this micro-genre would be Roy Orbison's 'Oh Pretty Woman' ("Pretty woman, walking down the street. Pretty woman, the kind I like to meet"). I didn't highlight it back then on purpose; I was saving it because I knew 'You're Beautiful' was coming up and I wanted to keep my powder dry. Because at heart 'You're Beautiful' is little more than a beefed down re-write of Orbison's song, albeit with differences enough to be able to point out why I hold the latter in such affection but have an opposing opinion of the former.
Like Roy, a random girl has caught James' eye and he'd like to get to know her better too, but let Blunt tell you himself: "I saw an angel. Of that I'm sure. She smiled at me on the subway. She was with another man. But I won't lose no sleep on that, because I've got a plan. You're beautiful, you're beautiful, you're beautiful, it's true. I saw your face in a crowded place, and I don't know what to do". And that's it - there's nothing cryptic or obscure about 'You're Beautiful' and Blunt wears his feelings on his sleeve in thick tubes of glowing neon. You know where you are with this one. Unlike Orbison though, there's no twist in the tale happy ending for Blunt who, at song end, accepts "it's time to face the truth, I will never be with you."
Presented that way then it's all so much harmless fluff and any sane reaction would be a shoulder shrug of indifference at the same old, same old. But taken in the round, the cynical exploitation of Blunt's keening raises my hackles like those of a cat being chased with a spouting hosepipe. Blunt the 'artist' presents his little boy lost persona in a way that's distasteful in its emotional manipulation; 'Oh Pretty Woman' was as much about Orbison as the unnamed female, but 'You're Beautiful' is all about sympathy, not empathy, and he plays his audience like a violin. We aren't meant to share an 'I've been there' moment with James; no, his quivering simper instead plays the vote winning, self pity card for all its worth (the video even has him committing suicide Japanese style ferchrissakes) in its search for someone to fall for it. Ultimately, it means that for all his angst, I simply don't believe he has any interest in that particular girl at all - Blunt and his "There must be an angel with a smile on her face" is a means to an end, a very bad, three minute chat up line and his teary hand wringing no more than a palatable version of Buffalo Bill's fake arm cast ruse to get women in the back of his van; for all the forced sincerity in his voice, Blunt may as well be singing in front of a mirror. This is ghastly stuff.