Album review: Jamie T – ‘Kings And Queens’

The Wimbledon troubadour tries a bigger sound, with largely successful results

When [a]Jamie T[/a] surfed the initial wave of hype on his washboard, it just seemed like Virgin had dropped a syringe on Camden and signed up whichever posho troubadour dabbling in ragamuffin chic it stuck in. However, even though his vocal inflections and street poet lyrics seemed desperately seeking for a place between His Holiness The Doherty and Citizen Skinner, his jumble of punk, hip-hop and folk proved to be great fun, and his debut album ‘Panic Prevention’ became an unlikely favourite of Mercury judges, Whiley coyotes and mams and dads too. It was good for heaven’s sake, but two years on, which way has the 23-year-old gone with his follow up? Lo-er than lo-fi’s ever been before? Not a chance, the music industry’s on its arse, and Jamie T rumbles back into view sitting astride a big, shiny chart missile.

The milk-bottle percussion on opener ‘368’ is about as skiffle as it gets here, and it only serves to add even more of a feel of [a]Massive Attack[/a]’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ to the song, a pulsing, bottom-heavy and darkly atmospheric vision of life today with an addictive, helium-voiced chorus. It’s expansive and streetwise but still hooky as hell, and, while there’s a couple of acoustic tracks, mostly this new incarnation of Jamie T is somewhere between [a]Death In Vegas[/a], [a]Lily Allen[/a] and N-Dubz. It works too, with the roiling ‘Hocus Pocus’ and standout rabble-rouser ‘The Man’s Machine’ showcasing punk-heavy hip-hop which you can’t help but sing along to, even if you’re clueless as to what he’s on about – it manages to make the words “concrete the gravel” sound like the cure for all human relationship difficulties.

The single ‘Sticks N’ Stones’ is the pinnacle of this, as Jamie T’s usual background setting of a night on the town is painted with an amusing story of getting in bother given a bouncy backing and ends up sounding like [a]Dexys Midnight Runners[/a]. If that doesn’t get the tweens robbing in glee then ‘Chaka Demus’ will, a song which uses the theme tune to The Banana Splits to nefarious ends. While making such a glossy record may sound slightly vulgar, beneath the push for boisterous sonic victory still lies the nervy, slightly goofy, puckish Jamie T. It remains one of his key flaws that the street-tough language he uses doesn’t always convince, the references to “the bullet holes or the shit up your nose” and suchlike, but it works in his favour when he reveals that his gobbiness is disguising a vulnerability. The rising claustrophobic panic of ‘Spider’s Web’ is like Nick Drake reincarnated as Eminem, while ‘Castro Dies’ sounds exactly like [a]Kasabian[/a]’s ‘Cutt Off’ only riddled with doubt.

‘Kings & Queens’ isn’t without it’s duds – ‘British Intelligence’ aims for [a]The Jam[/a] but ends up closer to [a]Kaiser Chiefs[/a]; ‘Earth Wind & Fire’ is funk with no soul – and while Jamie T remains something of a flawed hero, he’s the type you just want to get behind. Where he once seemed like a busking Rodney Trotter, he’s now left the loser affectations behind and is more like Del Boy, a man aiming for bigger and better things and becoming a national institution in the process. Lovely jubbly.

Martin Robinson

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