Accessible, ambitious fifth solo outing from illustrious indie illustrator, Jamie Lenman.
Release Date: 25th November 2022
Label: Big Scary Monsters
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Digital
Indie-rocker and sometime magazine illustrator Jamie Lenman has had an up-and-down time over the past couple of years. His last album, King Of Clubs, was released in September 2020, at the height of lockdown, which curtailed his opportunities to actively promote the album. He did eventually manage to get out on the road, doing what he does best, at the end of 2021. The relief of being able to get back to the live arena provided the creative spark that has now become manifest in Jamie’s excellent fifth solo outing, The Atheist.
Those readers used to the darker flavours of Jamie’s previous output may very well be in for a pleasant surprise, as and when they give The Atheist a spin. The trademark blend of hardcore punk, heavy metal and jazz infusions hasn’t been abandoned altogether, but The Atheist is a significantly lighter shade – both musically and lyrically – to the Jamie Lenman offerings that have preceded it.
Jamie takes up the story: “…the tour we did at the end of last year helped me to get [the dark moods of King of Clubs] out of my system. Half of these new songs had been waiting around a while for the right record, but then the other half started springing up as soon as I’d finished making KoC, almost as if I’d opened a little door that shone the outside into a dark room. It’s always a bit confusing making and touring records; the real emotional investment comes in the build-up, in the creative stage, so by the time it actually gets released, you’ve already moved beyond it. So, during most of last year, I was already into this lighter vibe, but I still had to put on the black clothes and play all this angry music.”
Jamie Lenman will, no doubt, be a familiar name to many of our readers. He’s got quite a track record. He was the frontman and principal songwriter in alt-rock outfit Reuben between 2003 and 2008 whilst, at the same time, pursuing his parallel career as an illustrator (his illustrative work has appeared in a wide range of publications including Rock Sound Magazine, The Guardian and Dr. Who Magazine.) After releasing three albums, the most recent of which was In Nothing We Trust (2007), Reuben disbanded and Jamie focused full-time on his career as an illustrator.
It’s thanks to many of the fans who had been entwined in the music of Reuben that Jamie was enticed back in writing and performing music. The positive feedback and encouragement they gave him persuaded him to pick up his guitar again and, in September 2013, he released his first solo single, Fizzy Blood/Pretty Please. The single was quickly followed by Jamie’s debut solo album, Muscle Memory, and the solo career that reaches its present peak with The Atheist was well and truly underway.
The Atheist was recorded at The Chapel Studios in Chichester during January and February 2022, with producer Mark Roberts at the controls. Jamie plays drums, guitars, piano and bass and is helped out by his buddy, Sean Genocky, who adds some truly wonderful guitar solos to the mix. Jamie resided at the studio for the period of The Atheist’s recording -an experience that was new to him – which he found to be highly productive, as he describes: “I tend to sleep late, so we’d record all day, hit the hay, and then, by the time I’d woken up, Mark would have fixed my shit from yesterday so I sounded like a huge genius. Then we’d just get right on with the next one. It was bliss.”
So, what do the results of all that deep studio emersion actually sound like? Well – The Atheist is a triumph. There’s a wide range of subject matter to the lyrics, which take in topics including relationships – both successful and toxic – socio-economics and, as the album title suggests, Jamie’s views on conventional religion. The default music style is tight, punchy rock, riddled with hints of influences like The Clash, The Foo Fighters, Weezer and even Queen, but there’s also a few enjoyable ventures into poppy balladry, prog rock and, on one occasion, a surprising peep over the gate marked ‘traditional folk’. Variety is not a scarce commodity, as far as The Atheist is concerned.
Tight, hard rock is the flavour of the day in opening track, This Is All There Is. Guitars, bass and drums are in tight synch and Sean’s guitar soars like an eagle. The song’s lyrics have an air of resignation about them – “Blood sweat and piss, this is all there is, so make the most of it” is a typical snatch, and Jamie delivers the words with a determined passion that manages to avoid the trap of histrionics.
Talk Hard, the album’s lead single, has been described as “a huge earworm,” a description that I’ll heartily underwrite. It’s bright and deliciously poppy, laced with chiming guitars, crashing percussion and the tune is joyful. The power pop of the album’s two opening tracks is toned down slightly for Hospital Tree, a song that starts life as a wistful ballad but which builds wonderfully until it reaches its glorious “I won’t let you down” refrain.
Jamie’s considered verses contrast sharply with his sharp, anguished, rants in Deep Down a tight, heartfelt masterpiece that incorporates something of a Beefheart feel into its structure, before we get to the superlative Lena Don’t Leave Me, the album’s second single and, arguably, the standout track. Like much of the album, it’s incredibly tight and punchy, but this time, we’re also served up with a big, BIG, chorus, and the backing vocals and Sean’s guitar licks are borrowed directly from the “Guide to Sounding Like Queen.”
It comes almost as surprise when Jamie plays the intro to My Anchor on acoustic guitar. There’s more anguish, as Jamie tells us that “I stood in the spotlight so long, I started to burn…” Jamie’s bass reflects the song’s title as it anchors the music solidly to the ground, whilst the urgency and excitement build relentlessly. The stamp-and-clap-along backing to Bad Friend can’t disguise the anger of the song’s lyrics, as Jamie turns the song’s refrain “Unkind, Unaware – whatever you feel, I’m unaware. I’m a bad friend for the weekend” into an anthem. But this time, there’s a response… a female vocal (from Jamie’s wife, Katie, maybe?) throws his faults back at him and concludes the song with her statement – “I just couldn’t cope with it anymore, and I had to let you go.”
The album’s homage to multiple musical genres is particularly evident in Song On My Tongue, a number that morphs – gradually and seamlessly – from a pleading ballad, via a powerful, poppy thrash, into a coda that almost resembles prog, before a big drumbeat signal the intro to the Americana-tinged ballad, This Town Will Never Let Us Go. Another of the album’s real highlights, it’s a song that’s drenched in jangly guitars. To begin with, Jamie’s vocal is husky and almost withdrawn, but slowly develops into a passion-filled scream as the song builds and the guitars start to soar.
The folky The Wedding Ring is one of the album’s real surprises. Jamie accompanies himself on piano, and his voice sounds like it’s coming from the room next door, but it’s the tune that packs the real radical punch. After a sequence of tunes that all take their ingredients from powerful, punky pop, it’s a genuine shock (not an unpleasant one, mind you…) to hear the lyrics sung to an off-the-peg traditional folk tune!
Jamie’s views on organized, conventional religion get their airing on the album’s closing track, War of Doubt. Over a solid, funky bassline and a persistent drumbeat, Jamie delivers monologues about the nature of life and the existence (or otherwise) of God. It’s a worthy conclusion to an excellent, intriguing – occasionally challenging – album, particularly as it builds to its shattering crescendo.
And that’s that. Apart, that is, from a short 13-second burst of WW1 eccentricity.
Watch the official video to Lena Don’t Leave Me – a standout track from the album – here: