Before sitting down to listen to Carry On The Grudge, the long-awaited third album by Wimbledon born troubadour (and personal here of mine) Jamie T I thought about where I was five years ago, seeing as there’s been a five-year gap between his releases. I was 15 when I first listened to Panic Prevention, and 16 when I first listened to its brilliant follow-up Kings & Queens and for some reason I connected with each, even without really knowing why I was at the time. Jamie Treays, much like Mike Skinner before him was a poet for the people; I got lost in Operation, a track I listened to plenty during nights spent trying to convince myself I was cooler than I actually was (not very cool I know), and even though I was perhaps too young to really relate to songs like Sheila (I didn’t understand the ‘Stella’ reference at the time, shame on me) I wanted to, because I felt like I was missing out on some sort of fucked up normality. The records were an insight into something I didn’t have, if that makes sense. Anyway, five years on some of my longing for that downbeat normality has become subdued reality, and it’s fitting that Carry On The Grudge arrives just in time to set me up for another humbling ‘things to look forward to in your twenties’ lesson. By the sounds of it there isn’t much good ahead, but that’s part of the appeal, and much like past works, Treays’ third album is beautifully grounded, a necessary release for the common man, a poignant tale of heartbreak and growing up told by one of the most painfully truthful and likable voices in modern music.
There’s been plenty of speculation during the past five years about just what had happened to Jamie T, who had seemingly disappeared into the void that seems to swallow a large percentage of London. That void has spat him out, and although the energy of Kings & Queens and teen angst of Panic Prevention is diluted greatly Jamie T’s music sounds all the better for whatever experiences he’s been through in that time, it’s much slower and thoughtful, and his time in self-inflicted limbo makes up the general tone of the record as he explores his own melancholy state of mind. Sure, Jamie T has always been fairly troubled. His debut album took its name from the panic attacks he suffered, and his second was a more mature progression with its fair share of downcast eyes and sentimental, eclectic musings. This time around, Jamie T is still undoubtedly troubled, and the five years that separate his second and third record haven’t done much to help quell the Hell in his head; with tracks like Mary Lee and Peter some of his darkest, most brooding material yet. Peter, oddly enough, is the Hell in Treays’ head, his asshole ‘Mr Hyde’ alter-ego who features bitter alongside an anthemic, stomping guitar-driven track which perhaps stands out too much on a record which is mostly raw in a very different way.
Part of this raw nature comes from Treays’ lyrics and vocals, which are still very well done despite losing their quickfire delivery and venomous potency. Tales of bar fights and piss-drinking (The Prophet, on which Treays sings ‘I haven’t cracked a smile since ’93’) are strangely intoxicating, whilst the expressive, crooning They Told Me It Rained stirs up goosebumps, absorbingly warm, overflowing with a genuine, almost crippling honesty as Treays laments ‘I give up, yeah I give in, just show me love‘ in the style of a man verging on broken. Again, sure, he’s always been several shades of that man, often as a bystander – the shaky bridge between the gutter and the down to earth grandeur of everyday life – but on the twelve tracks that make up his return he’s the one being watched, being dissected, and it makes for some incredibly personal insights into one of the most enigmatic and relatable characters in music. Jamie T is still the narrator and ring-leader, but now he’s the one in the spotlight, as opposed to the shady characters of English shadow. He lived in that void, that world he used to chronicle, it was the world we saw ourselves off in his earlier material, and Carry On The Grudge is a record born from that fuller, lived-well, experience – a harrowing but humbling account of a man teetering on the edge and acknowledging his own loose footing. The more memorable selections are those which showcase this vulnerability, and akin to the likes of Emily’s Heart they’re found here in the form of the aforementioned Mary Lee and Limits Lie, both of which are accounts of a love lost, a prominent topic on Carry On The Grudge. The former finds Treays in deep reflection, a slow, sombre song which inspires some sympathy even though he holds himself accountable (‘I can’t believe what a stupid drunk boy I was to let Mary leave’) over gorgeous blossoming horns. Opener Limits Lie is slightly more upbeat, unfurling for a great, perking chorus which somehow rouses a smile even though its lyrically defeated. Pair it with calming, almost laid back oozing lead single Don’t You Find and you have two opening songs which are pensive and unlike anything Treays has attempted before. The opener, like the excellent Murder Of Crows (which makes use of some delicate Bon Iver like harmonies) is more traditional in terms of its songwriting, and Treays has improved this area of music significantly. There’s a real streamlined feel to the record, which loses none of its impact in a more focused approach. It suits his style, which as a whole is more mature but still pleasingly rugged. Carry On The Grudge isn’t particularly spontaneous, and the hip-hop / rap influence has been toned down enormously – the last verse of Rabbit Hole is the closest you’ll get to the likes of Chaka Demus, and the Panic Prevention style borders on non-existent throughout – but there are shades of earlier material, it’s just that Treays has evolved greatly as a musician, and that’s potentially Carry On The Grudge‘s biggest strength, or weakness, depending on your stance.
Personally, I loved the growth on Carry On The Grudge, and the likes of ballad Love Is A Heartbeat Away and the shifting Turn On The Light are, in my eyes, two of the best songs Jamie T has released thus far. Both suggest he’s aged well, musically more than mentally, and there’s something very impressive about the strides he’s made here, even though some tracks were recorded shortly after Kings & Queens. Fourth track Zombie is one of these older songs, and it’s infectious like its namesake, the records highlight, ridiculously cool once is kicks in with the lines ‘cos I’m a sad sack post-teen caught up in the love machine / No dream, come clean, walking like a zombie’ over churning, spirited instrumentation. The equally energetic Rabbit Hole is another highlight, playful in abundance, and both of these livelier tracks stand head and shoulders above the weakest track on the record Trouble, which is dynamic in a less convincing, more forced way. It’s difficult ska-punk feel is the only blemish on an otherwise superb release, and it’s a shame it falls midway through, upsetting the pace and momentum which had slowly and surely been gathering, as Treays seems to recapture some sort of now-foreign spark, and fails.
If Panic Prevention was a record for the damaged adolescent then Carry On The Grudge is one for their world-weary, older selves. It’s personal and poetic, bolstered by some immaculate production, and in some regards its Jamie T’s best record to date, albeit one which might not appeal to the same audience he had five years ago; if you’ve been waiting five years for another Kings & Queens you may be disappointed. Carry On The Grudge is a masterpiece of a different nature, commendably changed, and even if it may leave listeners torn there’s still a great deal to enjoy here. It’s very, very good to have Jamie T back, and with him he’s brought one of 2014’s better releases, at least in my eyes.
Listen to: Limits Lie / Zombie / Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away