Sometimes new musical acts come along so fully formed and loaded with such killer material that they’ll release an absolute masterpiece of an album (or two) at the beginning and then spend the rest of their days futilely trying to recreate the magic of their earlier canon. This century alone, The Strokes, Bloc Party and Interpol (to name but a few) have all arguably suffered from this fate. Jamie T seems to be in danger of being the latest to fall into this category.
Trick, the fourth studio album from the Wimbledon native, real name Jamie Treays, is the follow up to 2014’s slightly underwhelming Carry On The Grudge. Described in the press release as an “eclectic rock/punk/reggae/rap/pop celebration”, it is somewhat of a return to form for Treays and an improvement on its predecessor. It does, however, – and this is the crux of the matter – fail to reach the levels set by his sublime 2007 debut, Panic Prevention, and 2009’s equally excellent Kings & Queens. To paraphrase Eamon Dunphy; it’s a good album, not a great album.
Recorded in London and Detroit, Trick opens promisingly. Superb lead single ‘Tinfoil Boy’ is a lot darker than anything he’s previously recorded – pounding electro-rock pervaded by claustrophobic, menacing synths and haunted, breathy female monologues from actress Florence Bell (Treays’ old college friend). These voiceovers are a recurring theme and pop up throughout the album’s 49-odd minutes. ’Drone Strike’ continues in the same vein and sees Treays displaying his considerable rapping abilities in verse before exploding into another catchy chorus. Second single ‘Power Over Men’ is the album’s first misstep, instantly forgettable, inoffensive lounge rock that checks the momentum generated from the opening salvo.
‘Tescoland’, meanwhile, is vintage Jamie T and an album highlight. Propelled by a chugging, breezy Clash-influenced guitar line, it tells the tale of Treays spending the summer in New York after having his heart broken back home the preceding winter. By the end Treays can’t help but get drawn back home. “Who am I kidding I love to hate, love to sail away like a rolling stone / Every plan I make is meant to take me further away, but I always end up back at home, in Tescoland”.
The middle section tends to blend in together without anything particularly standing out. ‘Police Tapes’ is a murky affair underpinned by a dirgy bassline that fails to draw you in. ‘Dragon Bones’ is a cheery, loping tune with a sombre chorus but no real bite; “Upside down, inside out, if I had a gun, I’d blow my brains out”. ‘Joan of Arc’ has a real late-Arctic Monkeys, slinky feel to it and tells the story of a girl who’s unlucky in love. The beat-heavy ‘Solomon Eagle’ tells the historical story of the eponymous character, a madman, going around London informing the locals that the Great Plague is retribution from God for their sins.
Another standout moment is the wonderful ‘Robin Hood’ which is similar to ‘Tescoland’ in style and structure. It recounts the story of a young schoolboy named Johnny who wants to grow up to be Robin Hood even though all the other boys want to be “rappers and thugs”. The song closes out with an incredibly infectious hook of “everybody hates the law, and loves a bad robber”. Quite brilliant.
Trick concludes with a trio of slower tracks. ‘Sign of the Times’ is a ballad lamenting the ills of modern society with a stadium-size chorus. ‘Crossfire Love’ brings another down-tempo, lighters-in-the-air kind of moment that will probably make much more sense upon seeing it live. The pick of these three is ‘Self Esteem’, undeniably pretty, with strings sweeping in at the end for an epic, theatrical farewell.
While inconsistent, there are certainly more than enough moments of quality on Trick to suggest Jamie T possibly has another big album in him somewhere. Getting it out will be the next trick.