Jamie Lenman: Muscle Memory – album review
For anyone who doesn’t know who Jamie Lenman is, this is the same man who tore up a plethora of venues across the UK and elsewhere with his band, Surrey based, Reuben. The trio quickly gained a blood thirsty cult following but, unfortunately, they never made enough of an impact to maintain their existence and the band hit hiatus status in 2008, but promised it was not the last the world would hear of Reuben…
So until then we’ve been given this somewhat bizarre double album by the frontman, entitled Muscle Memory. What Jamie Lenman has done with this record is take a giant axe to the Reuben sound and split it right down the middle. The first record, Muscle, takes all of the aggression and brutality of his former band while the second, Memory, is a more light hearted, melodic, musical romp.
For the sake of being an awkward dick I’m going to tackle Memory first, mainly because I like it a lot more than it’s counterpart but also because this 11 track disc is more likely to bring Lenman the fan base he truly deserves. Though the man himself once expressed his disdain at the NME, in the song ‘Crushed Under The Weigh Of Enormous Bullshit’, the rise in twatty little indie-kids liking good wholesome folk-styled sounds (thanks to musicians like Frank Turner and bozos like Mumford & Sons) might result in Lenman finding a few of the slightly more musically minded NME kids interested in the sounds within Memory. The obvious single was ‘Pretty Please’ (see below), a catchy and upbeat tale of love for a burlesque dancer. Even though the main riff is reminiscent of many of the new-indie-come-artic-monkey songs out there the use of additional instrumentation, in the shape of jazz drums and stand-up bass, gives the track a whole other level which crescendos into a full swing sound making the single sound more like a Frank Sinatra hit than it does any form of modern “rock”. But the record is not all happy-go-luckily as there are dark moments with tracks like ‘For God’s Sake’, a dark country number which would work as the perfect soundtrack to a Cormac McCarthy novel. However, Memory does maintain a somewhat poppy ethos for the most part, but this dips into so many other genres; folk, country, swing, jazz, etc. that it is impossible to put it in any kind of “box”. This does wonders and makes this half of the record strong enough to stand alone without the other half of the combo.
Which might have been a pretty good idea, really. As much as it breaks my heart to put down a man whose music has both inspired and helped me throughout the years, Muscle really doesn’t do a damn thing for me. And it isn’t that I’m not used to such brutality, believe me I am, as I spent most of my late teens getting firmly familiar with bands like Glassjaw, Dillinger Escape Plan, Will Haven (the record at times is very reminiscent of Carpe Diem), and other face melting outfits who are great to try and play to your Nan at Christmas, it’s just that the aggression on this part of the record feels a little forced. It seems angry for the sake of making noise. The riffs are intricate and Lenman’s guttural cries are still on top form but it all gets a little much and, without the balance of the occasional dip into a melodic segment mid track, it becomes difficult to listen to the entire record in one sitting. Two tracks in and I’m knackered. And that’s just listening to it. This might appeal to some people, and I imagine a great number will love this, but the lack of any let up from the heavily distorted guitar tracks and brutal screams of rage, which are all wrapped together with a very strange use of very muddy production, makes me want to avoid the Muscle disc and get back to the soothing pop melodies of the latter.
All in all Muscle Memory is a success, but will probably viewed as failure. Even though Jamie Lenman has released something that can appeal to both polar opposites on the musical spectrum of “alternative”, listeners will no doubt, for the most part, focus on the areas they don’t like. The more musically minded indie-boppers will listen to ten seconds of Muscle and turn off from the whole record because it doesn’t have catchy riffs and lyrics about “going out on the weekend and having a shag”, and the hardcore kids will refuse to listen in case any one within their “scene” hears something off the Memory side and calls them a pussy. Which is a damn shame, if any musician deserves a break it’s Lenman.
All words by Ian Critchley. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.