“I don’t give a flying fuck any more,” Jamie T declared emphatically on stage at Glastonbury last month. Rather than a statement of nihilism, it felt like a liberating moment: here, a beloved artist, who has been plagued by anxiety and issues since even before he was lighting up the lives of indie kids, was unburdening himself of the baggage of the music business in front of our eyes.
‘The Theory Of Whatever’, his fifth album and first in nearly six years, feels like a similar declaration to the one that rang across the John Peel tent. Its title alone suggests an unbothered, unfazed shrugging off of the need to find some grand, meaningful title for this latest work, while its contents are exhilaratingly free. Of course, that don’t-give-a-fuck attitude has always surged through the south Londoner’s (real name Jamie Treays) songs – often in parallel with apprehensions and insecurities, like on ‘Panic Prevention’ – but here it feels like the dominant force.
Largely, that’s a good – nay, great – thing. It would be easy for him to rest on his laurels, even with this unshackling of his spirit, and put out an album of ‘Sheila’ and ‘Sticks N Stones’ soundalikes, but this album is no phoned-in re-treading. His new attitude instead gives him room to try new things or stick to the scrappy anthems he made his name on, free falling through styles and sounds, finding things that work.
Of the latter, there are plenty of gems. ‘The Old Style Raiders’ – the song that helped Treays find his direction for this record – is a barbed banger that contains a clarion call to fight for the things that mean the most to you. “Toe the line / Hard to find,” he bellows on the chorus, staccato guitar fragments becoming more sustained, driving bursts beneath his voice. “Told to fight for something you love in life.” ‘Between The Rocks’ – co-written with album producer and former Maccabees guitarist Hugo White – zips into view later, and appears to detail Jamie’s feelings on the music biz. “Kinda hard to find the real in a room of plagiarists / Everything I write, I feel another vibe ripped,” he half-raps at one point, before assessing his chosen career path: “No kidding, what a way to make a living / Revolving in the door and we’ll never stop spinning / It’s cynics, critics and half-cut mimics / Tickets and bigots, they’re thick as thieves for the winning.”
On the more inventive end of the spectrum, ‘90s Cars’ blends a dreamy post-punk bass riff with twinkling piano melody to make something that feels fresh but familiar. ‘Keying Lamborghinis’ feels like the darkest, most ominous song the indie star has released so far: a shadowy atmosphere pulsates through the track, from the bass-y drones at the start accompanied by chopped-up vocals, to the rich synths that smother things later on. ‘Sabre Tooth’, meanwhile, feels like a nod to ‘80s rock and ‘00s indie, its foundation heavy and hard and topped by a glacial, piercing guitar line that could easily fit in a Strokes or Bloc Party song.
While Treays’ experimentation should be lauded, it doesn’t always come off. ‘The Terror Of Lambeth Love’ stumbles and tumbles through minimal layers, following an intoxicated plod that feels like it consumed a few drinks too many, and then a few more drinks after that. ‘A Million & One New Ways To Die’ is the kind of surging anthem that is often associated with Jamie T and will likely inspire many a mosh pit at future gigs, but its chorus veers too close to MOR polished punk – no unique character, and the kind of refrain that could be cut and pasted into several other songs without it feeling clunky.
Jamie T in 2022 might not give a fuck about what anyone else thinks or wants in terms of his music, but that doesn’t mean the sensitivity that has also filtered through his lyrics has been snubbed out. On the acoustic ‘Talk Is Cheap’ – which opens with the musician announcing: “Sorry” – lays out struggles with drugs and mental health, and the effect they’ve had on parts of his life.
“I was doing too much coke / A bag of bones,” he explains, later adding a slightly more cryptic narration: “A bag of white / I fade to black.” Concurrently runs the theme of lost love and a desperation to get it back. “Hear you got a brand new car, a brand new flat / You drink in different bars with different twats,” he sings bitterly, but slowly reveals that resentment is only because “I still think I’m in love with you”. It’s poignant and powerful – proof that beneath the brashness, there’s still a lot of heart.
A decade-and-a-half on from his seminal debut album ‘Panic Prevention’, most of Treays’ peers that he came up with are no longer on the scene. Perhaps his refusal to play the game – to be social media savvy, to not go MIA for five years at a time – has done what the industry would want artists to believe that approach can’t and given him the most longevity of all. Regardless of why he’s the one to remain at the forefront of British alternative music, though, ‘The Theory Of Whatever’ shows that – unless he chooses to hit the eject button for himself – Jamie T should be sticking around for a lot longer.
- Release date: July 22
- Record label: Polydor Records