Jamie T’s review, The Theory of Whatever: Indie recluse is back with an evolution of his signature sleaze
Jamie T seems to be living in the past. It’s not that the indie troubadour hasn’t released anything new since its 2007 debut – it has, and much of it is just as brilliant as that first outing – but Jamie Treays’ music evokes a certain nostalgia: that shaped by cheap lager beer, sticky bar stools and drunken singing. Every few years Treays comes back and makes us feel young again.
The release of Panic Prevention was a cultural reset. The album introduced the then 21-year-old Jamie Treays as a scrappy, biting chronicler of the city’s nightlife. The label “urban poet” was widely circulated, which he naturally hated. Bar his fourth album carry on the grudge, which constituted a more traditional rock sound, his albums continued in the same spirit as his debut, a tumultuous journey through metropolitan dislocation. Or simply the wanderings of a curious mind.
On first listen, The theory of anything fits perfectly into this body of work. The album opener “90s cars” is a scene-maker – albeit deceptive – that opens the record like a ribcage, releasing vibrant guitar lines and Treays’ idiosyncratic vocals like a whiff of nostalgia. But the touch of lo-fi production is new. It’s doubled in “The Old Style Raiders”, a soulful new-wave chugger – one of many tracks produced by formerly of the Maccabees Hugo White.
“British Hell” samples Misfits’ 1981 track “London Dungeon,” the chorus here sung by former Gallows frontman Frank Carter. Traeys finds a natural home in his splashy snare drum and goth-baiting guitar, but ultimately makes the original horror-punk sound give way to his endearing, commercials-ready style.
These songs tend to be softer than his best-known material. But really, Treays has always been surprisingly great in the softer times. “Talk Is Cheap” sees him take on an acoustic guitar for a clumsy plea, begging an ex-lover to “tint pink” his glasses against the “dirty promises” of a Lothair like him. His choruses remain anthemic but are less strident than those he wrote when he was 17. There’s a new weariness in his voice that, ironically, makes even his most evocative tracks feel fresh. The sudden pitch changes and syllable stuffing of “Between The Rocks”, for example, are reminiscent of his Panic Prevention era without feeling regressive. The nasal howl of his youth has also increased with age.
Glints of social commentary come with his signature laugh. The guitar ballad “St George Wharf Tower” refers to the notoriously expensive Vauxhall apartment complex, a symbol of the city’s housing crisis: “Are you live in the clouds / Or on the A2305, it’s hard to say / But I hope you I’m happy now,” he laughs. Elsewhere, his humor is used to analyze long-distance romances in the love language of cab rides: “His rating is confidently four point five .” The album ends on a mischievous note: “50,000 Unmarked Bullets” imagines the love affairs of North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un.
There’s still an endearing sleaze to the album, dribbling through its 13 tracks like the cold sweat that clings to the walls of the damp clubs he sings about. In his heart, The theory of anything is an album by Jamie T; there are its usual characters, political barbs and myriad sightings of London in all its crude glory. But it’s an evolution: new material that Treays could only write now, performed with that same old bravado we know and love.