Nothing about Jamie Lenman ever seems predictable. Of course there was the dissolution of his band Reuben which still remains a sore spot to many involved with the Britrock scene of the mid-2000s, but then came his work as a contributor for The Guardian and Doctor Who Magazine, neither of which were logical next steps one of the most charismatic frontmen that British post-hardcore had at the time. Even more surprising still was his return to music in 2013 with Muscle Memory, the gloriously excessive double album comprising of a disc each of brutal, vicious hardcore and big-band-inspired jazz and folk. As well as a musical style that’s still yet to be bested in terms of chameleonic ambition, it showed that, if Lenman was going to return to music, the easy route was certainly not an option.
It also gives Lenman the room to play its follow-up Devolver slightly easier, this time moving towards more traditional alt-rock and post-hardcore tones not too unlike what Reuben used to favour. That’s not to say that this is a lesser album, though; if anything, streamlining the process has come out with a much more manageable final product that still doesn’t cut back on a few more off-kilter quirks to really set it as a cut above. Besides, Lenman really is too much of a maverick to fully rest on his laurels, and Devolver is a great example of what can be achieved when that’s filtered into a narrower context; it’s easy enough to brand this with the regular alt-rock labels, but it’s smart enough to stand out from them.
That ultimately comes down to the gift for instrumental diversity that Lenman has seldom shied away from, and though the spectrum never even comes as close to that on Muscle Memory, there’s still a lot to traverse here, be that the swampy dirge of Mississippi, the cavernous fuzz and ominous piano twinkles of Bones, or the harder-edged post-hardcore of tracks like Personal and Hell In A Fast Car that aren’t that far removed from the post-hardcore in which he cut his teeth. Even though Comfort Animal is only an interlude, that too takes its own individual path down hazy, lowkey electro-indie which serves its purpose as a gap-filler if little else.
Where this all comes together is with Lenman himself, with his strident accent and quick-witted charm serving as the only connective tissue here, but it’s the only kind that’s needed. For as wild and on a knife edge as his shifts from singing to screaming can be (see Waterloo Teeth for the best example), it lends these tracks a certain kinetic energy that works with some of the stranger instrumental turns rather than just set aside them. For a track like I Don’t Know Anything which rests on a slightly tongue-in-cheek style of self-deprecation, it punches up a typical core of mournful strings into something more electrifying, and for a track like Body Popping which hinges on snarky commentary around acts who’ve become famous for essentially doing nothing, pairing that with a monotone delivery and stiff, popping beat really does aid with some sort of comedic timing. For an album supposedly built around its percussion lines, a track like this is where it really comes to fruition in the best way.
Of course, Body Popping also highlights another constant with Devolver, that being Lenman’s scrapbook-style commentary on the music industry itself, and the hole of jadedness that it’s ultimately dug itself into, whether that’s the lack of real innovation or spark that’s been prevelant in mainstream rock in the last couple of years on Hell In A Fast Car, or the seemingly customary practice of band’s breaking up only to reform again a couple of years later to reap the rewards on Bones. It’s not all negative though, which is where the connection between artist and listener music can have comes in on Hard Beat, or the Lenman’s quite literal “don’t judge a book by its cover” tale when it comes to fans of his own music on I Don’t Know Anything. It’s the sort of equable, well-rounded evaluation that comes from someone whose clearly experienced the gamut of what the music industry has to offer, and it honestly does a good job a rounding out Lenman as the narrator of these experiences.
Perhaps the best thing about Devolver though, is just how comfortable it sounds. Lenman isn’t trying to prove anything or wedge himself into a certain scene here; this is clearly the output of a man with a deep love for the craft of music, and injecting a shot of vibrancy into that for a truly entertaining listen. Even for the Reuben fans still pining for a reunion that isn’t going to happen any time soon (particularly if you read between the lines here), this is easily the next best thing to become invested in. It’s smart, witty, stupendously catchy; what more could you really ask for?
For fans of: Reuben, Marmozets, Future Of The Left
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Devolver’ by Jamie Lenman is released on 27th October on Big Scary Monsters.