Jamie T ‘Carry the Grudge’ – Review

4 Oct

“What happened to Jamie T?” I asked a friend last year. “He’s in prison,” they replied. I didn‘t doubt it. He’d been away for so long and had a reputation as a rather ill adjusted, debauched, symbolically charming cockney lad, always one drink away from trouble. In actual fact he wasn’t in prison. His reasons for the long absence are more typical – a mixture of family problems, personal anxieties, musical dissatisfaction and a lack of anything interesting to say. When he did return, with the moody and introspective ‘Don’t You Find’ and a couple of low key gigs, devoid of his few hits, it seemed he was back with a whisper, not a bang. Then came ‘Zombie’. Then came Reading Festival.

‘Zombie’ sounded familiar and new. It’s an elastic song, endlessly enjoyable and re-playable. It served as a vital reminder of Jamie’s talent as a songwriter. Reading Festival had the element of surprise and it proved that there was a greater demand than ever to hear from him. The gig was rammed and reportedly went off in epic style. And he brought back ‘Sheila’ and ‘Sticks and Stones’. Zombie sat along side those classics with ease. HERE was the bang.

‘Zombie’ is sort of an anomaly on ‘Carry the Grudge’, which is on the whole darker, more intense, mature and reflective than either ‘Panic Prevention’ or ‘Kings and Queens.’ The “cheeky lad” persona still seeps through in his distinctively slurry vocal style, but the exuberant character who made you believe he COULD end up in prison is as much a relic of 2007 as Nu-Rave and The Paddingtons. It‘s still a distinctly “Jamie T“ type of record though; fluorescently quirky and abundantly tuneful, but there is added shade in which surprising shapes and ideas emerge.

Running through the record is a sense of melancholy. Mistakes have been made, love have been lost, and people have been pushed away. Jamie T is not the confident lad he was. His lyrics on ‘Zombie’ may be slightly self-deprecating (“blood shot eyes and blood in my teeth” “sad sack, post teen” “walking like a zombie”) but there IS a sense of self-hatred running through the album. On ‘Mary Lee’ he despairs over what a ‘stupid young boy” he was and on ‘Turn on the Light’ he tells us that he “knows what it’s like to feel love and not like yourself.” It never gets too dark and deep, his sense of humour and love of a hook prevent that, but his lyrics have a serious tone that I wasn’t expecting.

Opener ‘Limits Lie’ establishes the mood of the thing with a chiming, love-sick guitar, understated organ and laid-back beat. It slinks forward, emphasising melody over sophistication, and it takes its time commanding your attention. The album continues at this pace until ‘Zombie’ two tracks later. It’s an understated way to introduce you ‘comeback’ record. The first verse of ’Limits Lie’ acts as a quick re-acquaintance; he seems to ask ‘remember my name?’ Maybe that’s not a question, maybe it’s intended as a command – ‘remember my name!’ If it is, it’s one of the few imperatives on the album. Most of the time he seems frustratingly content to wallow in self pity; the few nuggets of optimism and enthusiasm seem slight concessions to his fanbase. In the end you get the impression that Jamie’s very aware of the distance between 2009 and 2014, when really he has nothing to worry about. His lack of confidence doesn’t equate to a lack of public interest.

It’s a bit of a scatter-shot record, and a couple of the tracks miss the mark. The scuzzy riffs and juvenile lyrics of ‘Peter’ don’t sound ripe, especially compared to the subtly of the tracks that follow it. ‘Rabbit Hole, the best contender for second single, is initially enjoyable but its scrappy sound wears easily. ‘Trouble’ is much the same.  ‘Rabbit Hole’ is as close as Jamie comes to rapping, but then he was never a rapper so much as somebody who had so much to say and so little patience that he just had to get his words out as quickly as possible. That enthusiasm and energy is lacking somewhat on ‘Carry the Grudge’, which is possibly the price we pay for ‘maturity’. If that’s the case then it’s a shame, but the album ultimately survives this sacrifice and transcends anything Jamie’s done in the past. It’s an unusual comeback in that it’s his finest album yet.

7.5/10

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