Question: “O where have all the good lads gone..?”
Back at the beginning of this millennium, you guess we have Mike Skinner partially to blame/praise for the resuscitation of the classic young male stereotype, one given to being maligned but – as he proved on his début ‘Original Pirate Material‘ and in spades then with ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free‘ – here was a demographic willing to identify itself by his simple handles.
A further generation of mostly imitators followed, buoyed by the subsequent emergence of the Arctic Monkeys, but even that was a limited horizon the Sheffielders rapidly grew bored with, killing off the identity after arguably defining it on the hyper-streetwise haze of ‘Riot Van‘. Jamie T(reays’) début album ‘Panic Prevention‘ arrived at the back end of that span, a cluttered room of paranoia, DIY beats and diaspora sourced from locales as diverse as Kingston, Jamaica to Kingston Upon Thames.
After its follow up ‘Kings & Queens‘ cemented a reputation built on charting the screwed-upness of modern existence, its creator then disappeared, apparently having succumbed to just those intransigent fears he signposted, succumbing to vices and wandering lost, an embodiment of his own dystopian cautionary tale.
Returning from the wilderness with 2014’s ‘Carry On The Grudge‘, much of the accidental hubris of his earlier career appeared to have been discarded. On ‘Trick‘, the skin is almost entirely shed, sloughed off by circumstance, time and the rear view mirror of perspective, with the exception of the post-grime-grunge of ‘Drone Strike‘, a messy, bouncing gouge which takes the histrionics of the last decade and reinvents them a wiser, brasher kid grown up.
The process of becoming older is non-linear, its affects totally subjective. What is patently true is that after ‘Carry On The Grudge’s low key melancholy, Treays is now back in full effect, an idiosyncratic songwriter happy to be a conduit for influences which have fuelled his ascent, from punk to hip hop and well beyond.
Opener ‘Tinfoil Boy‘ stirs this shitstorm with venom, the singer hissing ominously, “It’s times like this I feel tricked into waking up”, whilst big guitars scour the chorus. At times though, his love of incorporation unravels a little, the illusory ‘Power Over Men‘ a dead-ringer for Alex Turner in any of his various guises, whilst the spectre of The Clash looms over ‘Robin Hood‘, rock and roll which despite the affectation still feels glad to be alive.
It’s no surprise, given the past, that the subject of mental health rises eventually to the surface; stark closer ‘Self Esteem‘ picks again at a scab which has always been present. The irony of course is that the singer’s anxiety condition is indirectly exacerbated by success, that ‘Trick’, if it eclipses previous works, will simply bring more of the cause and potentially make the symptoms even less bearable.
If anything like that was occupying space in his mind however, Treays has done well to disguise it; ‘Trick’ has its share of arena-size tunes designed to emote for those even on Row Z. True, the chippy cod-reggae of ‘Tescoland‘ is about the opposite of this effect – our American cousins not getting him – but ‘Joan Of Arc‘ is Blur type superior indie pop with accent lost, ‘Dragon Bones‘ switched on and made for “proper” dancing, whilst the anthemic blue collar heft of ‘Sign Of The Times‘ leaves him out on a limb, a long way from the Kansas of his shed and staring towards very different horizons.
Being famous but hating fame is a dichotomy many artists have needed to come to terms with, however uncomfortably. On ‘Trick’, Jamie T has produced a record full of authenticity, depth and cleverness, never quite confronting the listener but calling his tune on his terms.
If that’s a little selfish, you can be too: admire this record, think about the consequences for its creator later.