After providing many teenagers with the soundtrack to their angsty years with his first two albums – 2007‘s Mercury Prize-nominated Panic Prevention and his follow-up Kings And Queens in 2009 – Wimbledon singer-songwriter Jamie T disappeared. Several years went by without any word on new material from the brash twentysomething who had quickly established himself as the voice of a generation with his quick-witted anthems.
Yet those who feared that Jamie T had given up on music altogether could not be any further from the truth. It may have taken half a decade for the return of the now 28-year-old, but he certainly has not been twiddling his thumbs in the meantime. His third record, Carry On The Grudge, is the end result of a long process that has seen him write 180 songs over the last five years, with only 12 making the final cut.
Such is Jamie T’s dedication to perfection, he was never going to rush his return – especially following the critical acclaim that greeted the magnificent Kings And Queens, which made a mockery of second album syndrome. However, while the break was largely self-enforced, Jamie T was also struggling to match his own high expectations and move in a different direction from the sound that dominated his first two records.
That was before he asked for advice from Blur frontman Damon Albarn, who told him to “write from the heart” – something that Jamie T clearly took on board when composing Carry On The Grudge. Comeback single Don’t You Find is a perfect introduction to the record, with its downbeat, melancholic tone and languid guitar hook, as he wonders: “Don’t you find, some of the time/ there is always someone on your mind.”
As the song that announced Jamie T’s return, it took many surprise and suggested that his new record would be far more grown up than his previous releases. And while next single Zombie was a reminder of his ability to produce a ska-indebted dancefloor hit cast in the same mould as If You Got The Money or Sticks ‘n’ Stones, the lyrics once again captured an artist in transition: “Cause I’m a sad sad post teen/ caught up in the love machine/ no dream, come clean/ walking like a zombie.”
Jamie T is not the same man he was five years ago and Carry On The Grudge undoubtedly reflects that. Opener Limits Lie provides an ideal accompaniment to Don’t You Find, with its beautifully casual and laid back melody slowly building towards an epic crescendo. Turn On The Light is similarly downcast, relying on a repetitive ticking beat and its relatively basic guitar hook.
The Prophet is more like the Jamie T of old, with his familiar snarl back in full force, as he states: “I don’t ask the questions, I don’t write the rules/ I’m up for suggestions, I will follow you.” The instrumentation is on the minimal side once again, as it is on the folksy Mary Lee, which brings to mind the mesmerising Emily’s Heart from Kings And Queens. Then there’s Love Is Only A Heatbeat Away, a short romantic ballad that lives up to its title.
Yet, if it sounds like Jamie T has gone a bit soft during his period away, then the fearsome duo of Rabbit Hole and Peter redress the balance. The former is an infectious and upbeat change of pace, complete with snappy guitar hook, while the latter is his heaviest song to date and an obvious album highlight. It’s the brutal tale of a man who hears a voice in his head called Peter, with Jamie yelling “Peter doesn’t like this song” over a filthy guitar riff.
Following what has gone before, They Told Me It Rained delivers an appropriately heartfelt conclusion to the record, with Jamie T poignantly repeating “show me love”. It’s a memorable and fitting finale to a quite majestic return, one which really shows its creator at his most vulnerable. Jamie T bares his soul on Carry On The Grudge to the point that, by the end, it’s almost impossible not to love him for it.