When Jamie Treays, aka Jamie T, first entered the collective conscious in 2006 he was aligned with the likes of Mike Skinner and Alex Turner. Chosen as the people’s poets, their work aimed to take the mundane and shine a light on it, creating darkly humorous tales of crappy bands in crappy pubs, or emotionally stunted men trying their hand at love. It was easy to dismiss Jamie T as simply ‘Mike Skinner with guitars’, that was until his excellent debut Panic Prevention was released and was followed by a Mercury nomination and sales of over 100,000 units.
The pressure to produce a follow-up meant that sessions were aborted midway through, or albums finished and scrapped completely. Having immersed himself in Bob Dylan‘s back catalogue, there was even an album of acoustic strumalongs that was eventually ditched in favour of a return to the scuzzy, hip-hop influenced sound of his debut.
That’s not to say that Kings & Queens is merely a re-hash of old material. Instead, it’s a second album that builds on the success of the debut, expanding the sound without losing any of what made Jamie T so interesting in the first place. Opener 368 features a clattering drum beat that sounds like it was made using some old pots – and it probably was, seeing as much of the album was recorded in a shed – as well as some heavily treated backing vocals on the chorus. It’s also home to Treays’ unique, heavily accented voice, which part-raps, part-slurs, part-sings lyrics about drug abuse, girls and fights outside pubs.
Whilst 368 starts lo-fi, it slowly builds to take in synth strings, a rabble choir and the sense that this is Jamie T going epic. This desire to break out of the mould is shown through a handful of poppy, guitar-based singalongs that pepper the album. As well as the singles Sticks N’ Stones and Chaka Demus there’s also the insanely catchy Hocus Pocus that will go down a storm once he gets to play live again. (He’s had to cancel his UK tour twice due to illness.) Elsewhere, British Intelligence skirts close to being a Kaiser Chiefs single but just about gets away with it.
Some of the earlier acoustic material survives and rightly so; Emily’s Heart is a lovely, frayed ballad that finds Treays sounding genuinely vulnerable, whilst a mournful cello rises and falls in the distance. Spider’s Web features a pretty acoustic motif, but is counter-balanced by Treays rasping vocal, with short blasts of rowdy backing vocals punctuating the tension.
Perhaps the best moment is Earth, Wind & Fire, a song that sounds like nothing that comes before it. Over a spooky backdrop of echoed guitars, Treays croons another great chorus, his singing voice shown to be just as effective as his rapping one. It’s another example of trying out new sounds and trying to expand on an already successful template. Where he goes next will be interesting, but perhaps that acoustic album would be a good idea after all.