Album Review: Jamie Lenman – ‘Devolver’

One of the UK alternative music scene’s premier chameleons, Jamie Lenman has made his name by comfortably and confidently veering from one edge of the musical map to the other, […]

One of the UK alternative music scene’s premier chameleons, Jamie Lenman has made his name by comfortably and confidently veering from one edge of the musical map to the other, most notably on his 2013 debut solo album, ‘Muscle Memory’.

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On that double-disc effort, Lenman split his personality right down the middle, conjuring up a set of raging metal bangers on the first disc, whilst lavishing the listener with stripped down acoustic numbers on the second. Following four years of sporadic gigging and the odd new track dropping here and there, the man with the most exquisite moustache in rock has finally returned with his second full-length album, ‘Devolver’, and this time Lenman’s schizophrenic tendencies have been reigned in a little, though only inasmuch as his frenzied genre shifts now all occur in the same space, rather than being segregated to separate compact discs.

The album opens in a strangely muted fashion with ‘Hard Beat’, a track that uneasily shuffles into life with a series of looped rhythms and a swathe of almost mumbled lyrics, the first couple of choruses gliding by without much impact. It’s only halfway into the song when the drums kick in that the it really comes to life, with the chorus making much more impact the final time around thanks to a wall of fuzzed-out guitars. The song ends better than it starts, but it’s still something of a strange way to open an album. Much more immediately satisfying is second track and former single ‘Waterloo Teeth’, an angular post-hardcore jammer that feels like it could have easily been a Reuben song. Big riffs and soaring vocals give way to a discordant and bewildering outro that ends maybe a little too quickly, but certainly leaves an impression as next song ‘Personal’ takes over, this one more of a stomper that chugs along amiably before Lenman lets his inner animal loose towards the track’s end, his screams the first truly unhinged moment on ‘Devolver’.

‘Body Popping’ centres around a hypnotic electronic beat and robotic, almost monotone vocals and riffs that build and build, adding layer upon layer until a late-song breakdown that reveals a more human side, the refrain of ‘Your body is overrated’ lingering like a ghost over an outro reminiscent of Biffy Clyro at their most majestic. Following that, ‘Comfort Animal’s delicate, Sigur Ros-esque interlude makes way for the album’s first single, ‘Mississippi’, an almost industrial dirge that, whilst atmospheric and certainly unlike anything else on the album, sadly does little to excite for most of its running time, until a final sprint that manages to be one of the heaviest moments on the record and also oddly sounds like T-Rex’s ‘Children Of The Revolution’. New single ‘Hell In A Fast Car’ opens with an almost Rage Against The Machine-like riff, though is (thankfully) devoid of any attempt at rapping. Once more Lenman’s post-hardcore past comes to the forefront, the song’s chorus the kind of bouncing shout-along that could easily get a Download crowd moving. ‘I Don’t Know Anything’ veers left again, sounding more like a mid-00’s indie-dance track than Lenman’s core output. Closer in sound to Friendly Fires than Funeral For A Friend, it’s a welcome shift yet again, and though it’s lacking the killer chorus that could’ve elevated this to single material, it is one of the best surprises the album has to offer.

‘Bones’ rumbles along on a wave of overdriven bass and a repetitive stabbing piano, whilst Lenman does his best Matt Bellamy impression and croons his way through one of the slowest and most atmospheric tracks he’s produced to date. He’s somehow managed to channel both Muse and Pink Floyd simultaneously, and though the effect is somewhat spoiled by a ridiculously abrupt ending, this is still a highlight. ‘All Of England Is A City’ is another mid-tempo rock track that, whilst competent, does little to lodge in the memory, largely because it’s sandwiched between ‘Bones’ and the album’s closing title track, ‘Devolver’, easily the best song on the record. Starting small and intimate with just drums, minimal bass and Jamie Lenman’s vocal, the song quickly launches into the album’s most beautiful and memorable hook. Like many other songs on the album, it takes until the second chorus to really take flight, but when it does the results are glorious, a brace of pulsing synths helping to bring the track and album to a gargantuan close.

‘Devolver’ as an album is definitely a comprehensive snapshot of the musical mind of Jamie Lenman – this is a man who’s managed to keep one foot in his post-hardcore past whilst using the other to dance around in a whole host of other styles. His attempts to mash heavy rock with such disparate styles as jazz and electronica don’t always work, and the record does feel a little disjointed at times, however the man could never be accused of having a lack of ambition, and when his experiments pay off, they do so in spectacular fashion. Jamie Lenman has managed to amass a sizeable and loyal fanbase in the past 15 years, and ‘Devolver’ is a worthy gift to each and every fan. It’s not perfect, but it is a thoughtful and often surprising album that deserves to be heard.

James Lee

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