by Ben Adsett
There was a new album out in October of this year – you might have missed it. For a lot of people, however, it may have been the most important releases of the year. It was the new album from Jamie Lenman – the former Reuben front man and all round cult hero, as Vulture Hound‘s Ben Adset explains…
Jamie Leman casts a cult shadow over everything he does. In the hearts of a number of millennials he is looked upon with the same fondness of underground heroes like Franks Carter and Turner, after coming through the very same scene. In a way I think Rueben, being a band that never quite made it to the heady heights of their peers, Million Dead, Hell is For Heroes and Hundred Reasons, just adds to the cult status.
The early noughties were a simple time; there was a British Rock genre – it was uncomplicated and didn’t need a complicated name. The music sat somewhere between post hardcore, emo, metal and straight up rock music, and I have often wondered what category it would be filed under now. Lenman remains as hard to pigeon hole as the music scene he was once pivotal to. This lack of pigeon holing is a blessing and a curse – it’s hard to predict what’s coming next which makes each and every release fascinating and slightly scary.
In 2002 soon after a change of drummer and band name, Angel became Reuben, and released their first single; ‘Scared of Police’ which became a live favourite, but only made it onto their final compilation, We Should Have Gone to University.
Racecar is Racecar Backwards was a pivotal release, despite being released on Xtra Mile Recordings (once the home of Million Dead and now, on his own, Frank Turner) the album was recorded before the record deal. It is a debut release with absolutely everything and the perfect introduction to your new favourite band. It’s an hour filled with singles, individuality and most importantly lyrics that can change an emotion in a second. Lenman’s wry smile is almost audible during the topical humour, during the moments wrought with sadness the entire band combine into an emotive unit, and when things get heavy Racecar… is an absolute delight. It is an album that neatly combines singles/singalongs ‘Freddy Krueger’, ‘Eating Only Apples’, and ‘Moving to Blackwater’ with the more experimental ‘Missing Fingers’, and ‘Fall of the Bastille’ to create a release that faultlessly plays from start to finish.
At the time of release this was an album that was every bit as ground breaking as Hell Is For Heroes’ The Neon Handshake, or Hundred Reasons’ Ideas Above Our Station, but what followed left this perfectly formed album in the dust.
What followed was Very Fast Very Dangerous, the second release and a time where the band were touring during their annual leave from standard nine to five jobs. This is somewhat inspiring and slightly disheartening but the sophomore album they wrote is a modern classic, and considering 2005’s album alumni (Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm, Adam Green’s Gemstones and Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning) to stand out was something special.
Everything about VFVD is bolder than the incredible debut, and although there is an element of help from the higher production it’s the song writing that stands out, particularly the tender tales of love and loss. This is the release that Reuben and Lenman showed their talent for oxymoronic song writing and the comparison between the tear jerking beauty of ‘Boy’ and ‘Nobody Loves You’ is all but forgotten by the brute force of ‘Alpha Signal Three’ or ‘Blame Thrower’.
This is a release which shows a lot of creativity, there is a beautiful contrast between clean vocals, dirty riffs and guttural growls making every moment of the first listen a fascinating experience. This fascination with this release continues and even now there are new surprises to uncover, lyrically and musically this is an LP that just keeps on giving.
The band’s third (and final) release, 2006’s In Nothing We Trust, perfectly adds a full stop to the band. It was by far the most experimental release of the three albums and shows a band pushing the boundaries once more. From the opening two tracks, ‘Cities of Fire’ and ‘We’re All Going Home in an Ambulance’ there is a much harder sound to this release; the gentle opening bars create a false sense of security which is taken within a drum beat and guitar drop as vicious vocals come into play. All of a sudden the oxymoronic style returns with clean harmonies leading right back into the heaviest possible riff, it is in this opener the scene is set. As tracks merge the machine gun drumming and heavy guitars are contrasted by vocals that take a cold, almost venomous tone, creating something utterly haunting. These clever contrasts are thematic within In Nothing We Trust and the mood of the record distances it from the previous two.
This release is experimental and creative; every single track is full of twists and turns and although they are the same band they are operating on a higher level. Although this third effort lacks some of the singalong moments, it makes up for this in maturity and stylish musicianship. Some of the guitar and bass combinations are almost uncomfortable in their ever-changing nature but in each case this emphasises the lyrics.
Lyrically this release feels incredibly close to the bone as themes become incredibly personal. However, INWT is far from just a continuation of the heavier side – within ‘Good Luck’ Lenman’s simple vocal and acoustic musicianship combine with Hannah Clark to create something utterly heart breaking. ‘Deadly Leathal Ninja Assassin’ features Frank Turner and Paul Townsend (Hundred Reasons) and remains within Jamie’s solo sets. Of the three releases this is the strongest example of a complete piece of music, the experimental side feeds perfectly into the flowing tracks.
In 2008 Reuben took an indefinite hiatus and haven’t played together since. Guy and John went on to play in Freeze the Atlantic, Samoans and So Crates and Jamie focused on his career in illustration. In 2013 he returned with the most ambitious debut album he could; Muscle Memory, a double album with two distinct sides.
The release epitomises the oxymoronic writing style with one side of modern Americana and the other extreme metal. For JL the most important thing was not to sound like Rueben and despite taking obvious influence, both sides are incredibly individual. One side is heaviness personified and packs an endless punch. This is an LP which is, at times, overwhelming – this is an extreme release.
The clever thing about Muscle Memory was the contrasting singles. On one had you had the feedback drenched ‘Fizzy Blood’, and on the other, the simple emotive ‘It’s Hard To Be A Gentleman’. These contrasts made the tour that followed subject to rave reviews as each side was performed, showing Lenman’s incredible vocal control.
The second side of this release is utterly wonderful, too. There is a clever use of history and tradition making the each song individual in sound and musicianship. There is also a calming quality to the vocal delivery which is the polar opposite of the intense nature of the other side, considered as a single entity this release is a triumph in modern song writing.
Since Muscle Memory Lenman has toured and played shows irregularly, but has continued to generate hype reviews and this summer he marked his signing to Big Scary Monsters with new music debuted over the festival season. This new music included come back single ‘Waterloo Teeth’ and the announcement of Devolver, his second solo release.
Devolver is a mature effort and faultlessly combines his quieter side with some of his strongest riffs to date. However, the strangest thing about this album is how it sounds completely different from anything that has preceded it, by dropping to a two piece there appears to be more creativity with less bodies.
At times Devolver is crushing on the ears and the emotions, but there is a prevailing sense of victory throughout every moment: The haunting piano ballad, ‘Bones’, which finds the vocals at their most emotive, will have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck as the vintage brass evolves into distorted vocals. The humor and hooks of ‘Waterloo Teeth’ and ‘Mississippi’ hide developed riffs and drum beats that push two people to their limits, while ‘Body Popping’ hides lo-fi electronica which creates a fascinating change of pace within the release.
As with everything Jamie Lenman has written, the magic is hidden in these clever details, as he takes opposing ideas and brings them together to create something unique. Something uniquely Jamie Lenman.
Devolver is out now on Big Scary Monsters.