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Review: Jamie T – The Theory of Whatever

★★★★

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“When asked about the theme of the album, Jamie encapsulated it in two words, “five years”. ”
JT TTOW PACKSHOT

Jamie T returns gracing us with his most diverse and introspective work to date.

When reflecting upon Jamie T’s discography the calibre of music that he has produced is striking. The release of seminal classics, the mercury prize nominated Panic Prevention and the culturally revered Kings and Queens, immortalised Jamie and cemented his icon status. He was informally dubbed an urban poet as he weaved lyrical portraits of booze-soaked nights out, fallible characters and a teenage rebelliousness that resonated so profoundly within the late noughties indie zeitgeist. Then five years went past and not a sound until 2014 and we were finally bestowed with the menacing punk and blues-infused Carry on the Grudge which was met with stunning critical acclaim. Then came the genre-smashing Trick which was an inimitable blend of the albums that had preceded it. Now, after a six-year wait, the South London punk poet come troubadour has arisen phoenix-like once more to deliver us his long-anticipated fifth LP, The Theory of Whatever.

Jamie’s latest comeback was signalled with the emphatic The Old Style Raiders. A stadium rock-ready track that – although not a complete reinvention – stylistically, feels uncharted territory for the singer-songwriter. The chorus is pure anthemic euphoria that feels destined to be roared back in unison by feverish fans. Thematically, Jamie explores the visceral struggle that comes with finding that one thing that truly gives life purpose with the song embodying an underlying optimism, “I’m feeling lost in haze… I’ve seldom lost my way”. This sentiment conveys the impression of Jamie ruminating on the inner strife that was the arduous process that saw him write over 180 songs for the album.

Although older and wiser, the influences that have shaped Jamie’s back catalogue remain salient on TTOW. The iconography of his beloved London provides much lyrical inspiration and takes centres stage on the gentle, soothing, and melodious St George Wharf Tower. The Clash influences on British Hell are undeniable as Jamie channels his inner Joe Strummer with a gnarling howl. Once again Jamie displays an impressive prowess within the diversity of his musicianship with a plethora of genres being expertly interwoven. Album opener 90’s Cars has a spoken word bridge that oozes an effortless swagger while A Million & One New Ways To Die is blistering punk that does not stop to catch a breath. Album highlight Keying Lamborghinis coalesces hip hop, r n b and brooding, otherworldly 80s style synths incorporating echo effects that are at once atmospheric and ominous.

There is a definite maturity to Jamie’s musicality as the frenetic rap delivery that so heavily characterised his earlier records only appears sporadically on this latest LP. This maturity manifests itself within Jamie leaning into his natural aptitude for crafting impassioned, emotive ballads. Talk is Cheap is acoustic and stripped back, laden with a palpable sense of dejected melancholy as Jamie croons “I am rudderless”. Tonally self-deprecating, Jamie comes across as remorseful, “With all my dirty promises, honourless/With my dirty sleeping round town”, and is damaged by his usage, “I was doing too much coke/A bag of bones”. The recurring motif of the degenerative effects that narcotics and alcohol have upon Jamie’s well-being and his relationships is both stark and burdensome. The penultimate track, Old Republican, continues in the same vein as the ragged indie rock tune begins with “I must live for the pain/Drinking on my own again and again”. There is a pensiveness and an evident yearning for a love lost that is conflicted within his inner psyche, “Is it you that I miss?/Is it me that I blame?”.

When asked about the theme of the album Jamie encapsulated it in two words, “five years”. The simplicity of this feels apt as the album does sincerely feel like five years’ worth of experiences, relationships and struggles that have been wonderfully moulded and articulated into these thirteen slickly produced tracks. We do not have anything that resembles the dizzying high tempo of a Sticks 'N' Stones or has the fervid bounce of Zombie, with it being clear that Jamie has progressed sonically. However, when you stop expecting the high energy and style of Jamie’s earlier records and accept his evolution, you can fully immerse yourself and enjoy an album that is brimming with raw emotion.

The Theory of Whatever (Polydor Records) is out 22 July.

Pre-order it here

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