The man, the myth, the moustache.
Personally, I regard Jamie Lenman as one of the most iconic frontmen in British rock music. He transcends any stereotype that one might try and assign to a musician in this genre – he’s a smart dressing, smooth talking and hard-hitting riff machine. Finally, he’s back with a bang. In 2013 we saw the release of his first venture as a solo artist, the delightfully experimental Muscle Memory, this album showcased the binary opposites of gut-busting hardcore riots and whimsical folk ditties. Devolver has been cast in a different mould and the results are equally as eyebrow-raising.
Lenman’s music is nothing if not provocative. This was made perfectly clear when Racecar Is Racecar Backwards became an almost instant cult-classic upon its release in 2005. Reuben is, of course, where it all started for Lenman – beloved by many – the band allowed Lenman to establish a name for himself in the music industry and a platform by which he could hone his profession as an exemplary songwriter. Whilst cemented in the past, Reuben’s legacy lives on strong and certain sensibilities from those days have been carried and transcribed into Lenman’s more recent work.
Devolver opens with Hardbeat (for a focused dissection of this track click here: https://wavebyte.co.uk/2017/09/20/jamie-lenman-hardbeat/) and it certainly marks a fresh venture for the moustachioed musician. It’s a bold track to open an album with, it certainly has the potential to be divisive – much of the song is rather flat and the listener must wait a while for the song to kick in. When Hardbeat picks up, the payoff is entirely worth the trepid beginning. Off the back of that, we launch into Waterloo Teeth, arguably the most textbook Lenman track on the album. It’s hard to find a fault here, it’s bread and butter for this veteran.
Personal continues in the same vein – spiteful and raucous – it’s a typical riot that you’ll be hard-pressed to trash on. Body Popping is fascinating. Upon first listen, I was considerably unimpressed. Like Hardbeat, it’s incredibly pedestrian in pace, however, this time there is a distinct lack of payoff – music is all about tension, followed by release – Body Popping has no release. The most striking element of Devolver, as an album, is Lenman’s incredibly mature and conscious songwriting – in and amongst the forest of enigma codes are the fundamental basics. The persisting repetition of the ‘body popping…’ lyrical sequence is where the song becomes accessible – the simple exercise of repeating one line and layering sounds around it is so vital to this song, and indeed a number of tracks on the album.
In addition to Hardbeat, Personal and Body Popping, Mississippi and All Of England Is A City all follow the mould of having one hook that is repeated at a high frequency. One might view it as lazy, another might view it as smart – for myself, it’s the latter. The complexities in Lenman’s songwriting lie around these repetitions, the layers and textures that surround the hooks cement the fact that Lenman’s talent is undeniable – he’s been doing this too long to forget that complacency isn’t an option.
If the technical intricacies that made the hits from Lenman’s extensive back catalogue so interesting were in question with Devolver, you can rest assured that the musicianship is still thriving. The album’s titular track is nothing short of a masterpiece. The breakdown is mind-blowing – a solitary guitar amped up to countless decibels clashes brilliantly with the crashing drums – the instruments jump on and off the beat which jars the listener in the best way possible. It’s exciting, unique and potentially revolutionary. Furthermore, I have to mention that Hell In A Fast Car is now my favourite track on the album – the pace is pulsating and the vocals have a tenacity that sends tingles down your spine – with a chorus to ensure longevity in an audience’s mind. (Again, an in-depth review is available here: https://wavebyte.co.uk/2017/08/01/jamie-lenman-hell-in-a-fast-car/).
If you were unaware of this man before this review, or if you weren’t particularly a fan of his discography, then Devolver is not for you. A large portion of the album demonstrates the slightly stranger, less conventional side of Jamie Lenman – it’s a side that us fans love but it could potentially rub new listeners up the wrong way. It’s not the most accessible of albums, but it was never going to be. Devolver is an intelligent and enjoyable step in an already illustrious career and there is plenty on offer here to keep listeners coming back for countless further listens.