In a way, the most surprising facet of Jamie T's career isn't his five year absence but the fact that returned at all. After all, so many of the Class of 2007 found their careers floundering on the rocks after the indie boom imploded, rapidly shifting from Names To Drop to being, well, dropped. Jamie T, however, simply unhooked his ship from dock and sailed off into the sunset, returning only when he felt the time was right.
There are two reasons why Jamie T survived, and the rest – broadly – did not. For one, he's unafraid to tell his audience uncomfortable truths, to confront his fans with a message they might not immediately embrace. Secondly, he writes absolute bangers – songs built to bulge out of the upper echelons of arenas, songs to be sung back by fans lost in delirium, submerged in devotion.
'Trick', then, might well be Jamie Treays' most Jamie T record yet. It's certainly his broadest: touchstones include French Saints, English mystic messengers, the golden era of Stateside hip-hop, grime, and The Clash. Always The Clash.
'Tinfoil Boy' is the bombastic, unrelenting opener, the sound of his daring punk-fuelled songwriting flushed through an electrical circuit until it erupts in unholy sparks. The guitar line sounds like Tom Morello, the production – courtesy of Jamies T and Dring – sounding bigger, bolder, and yet more exact than ever before.
'Drone Strike' teases the album out in fresh directions. The beat recalls grime, that lingering 140 thud that seems to pulse through London's boroughs like the night bus winding its way through the inky early morning. It's remarkably effective, too – a juxtaposition rather than a fusion, it's one of the album's real artistic high-points, and draws a gasping vocal from the Wimbledon maestro.
Turning 30 earlier this year, there's a sense of introspection on the record that feels increasingly more raw than on Jamie T's 2014 return 'Carry On The Grudge'. 'Dragon Bones' warns “If I had a gun I'd blow my brains out” while 'Police Tapes' rumbles with the message “I've never felt so low.” Pained, paranoid final cut 'Self Esteem' lays it bare, with the staccato strings allowing a muttered spoken word sample to utter the haunting phrase: “Maybe I'm next to you…”
Throughout the record there's the feeling of being at the end of things, of witnessing a youth movement passing by. The references to The Clash – 'Robin Hood' is sheer Joe Strummer, even down to the knowing Americanisms – rub alongside hip-hop beats and grime references that he acknowledges as equals, but never fully incorporates. 'Sign Of The Times' rips things down to the bare bones, little more than electric guitar and voice, for the record's most direct statement, with the one-time indie wunderkind reflecting on the demise of the scene that spawned him. “I wish I had been a little more exceptional…” he mutters, before asking: “Where did all the venues go? Lost them all to businessmen.”
It's precisely this feeling of past tense, of the loss of culture – and also hope – that propels the record's centrepiece 'Solomon Eagle'. The hip-hop beat is sparse, direct, allowing Jamie T to flow on top, delivering an apocalyptic sermon that rails against the hopeless sinners he finds around him: “I'll introduce you to the Devil, and the Devil he will take you by the hand…”
The track then introduces another spoken word sample, this time illuminating the character of Solomon Eagle, an English mystic found in Daniel Defoe's Journal Of A Plague Year who wandered the streets of the capital illuminating the denizen's pathways to hell. Jamie T puts it more starkly, when he hears the sound of “God giving up on us…”
It's interesting to parallel Jamie T's moral and musical framework with another, very different, London artist: Burial. Both reflect on the implosion of culture, both have an antithetic relationship with the city around them, and both are fond of prolonged absences. It's a mark of just how broad, and how daring, 'Trick' is that we can make that comparison; a return-to-roots record that works most successfully when it rebels against itself, Jamie T's vision of revelation isn't something to be easily shrugged off.
Words: Robin Murray
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