Review Summary: Half brutal, discordant aggression, half catchy acoustic folk. A masterful display of varied songwriting ability, though perhaps a little difficult for those not a fan of the heavier end of the musical spectrum.
Jamie Lenman is the ex-frontman of English post-hardcore cult legends Reuben
, who disintegrated in 2008, to the dismay of fans. He had been more or less silent for five years, before announcing with little warning that he would be releasing a double album as a solo artist.
While it would arguably be productive to view Muscle Memory
outside of the context of Reuben, that band is inevitably the metre stick against which this artistic work will be measured.
What Reuben did best was seamlessly blending the melodic and the aggressive. All the more interesting, then, is the direction Lenman took on Muscle Memory
- a sort of Jekyll-and-Hydesque deconstruction of Reuben’s trademark sound.
The first disc of the album, Muscle
, is a series of polemics in which Lenman casts his withering gaze on social media, the 24-hour news, the death of Michael Jackson and himself. The vocals are screamed, the riffs are heavy and uncomfortable to listen to, the drums are pummelling and the tone is a biting, sardonic fury at everything and everyone.
There is no shelter or respite; there are, perhaps, 30 seconds of sung vocals on the entire disc before Lenman returns to his buzzsaw howls and screams, punctuated only by the thundering drums and discordant, distorted guitar riffs. It is, at times, genuinely hard to listen to.
Some highlights of the first disc are One Of My Eyes Is A Clock
; in which Lenman rants about the all-pervading nature of social media, and All The Things You Hate About Me, I Hate Them Too
; a distorted, funhouse mirror version of Reuben's Good Luck
- grating perspective of his approach to personal relationships. On the solo version of this track, a wailing alto saxophone only adds to the cacophony.
’s strengths and weaknesses are really two sides of the same coin. Each sound and word ooze Lenman's fury at himself and the world around him. It's difficult at times to push on through the disc, especially with the knowledge that each track will hammer on at your eardrums like the last one did. Touches like the saxophone I mentioned in the last paragraph would have gone a long way to give each track a more distinct character.
, the second disc, is a completely different animal. A collection of largely acoustic tracks, songs meanders from lazy country to big band swing. Jamie’s songwriting diversity is on full show as he transforms from the enraged, cynical misanthrope of the first half to a more caring, gentle soul; lyrics touch often on his relationship with his father and wife, and the gradual progress of life. Where Muscle
is massive, heavy, hard and cold, Memory
is warm and gentle, but often subdued.
Strings, horns and banjos are applied liberally and skillfully over the various tracks, but there is also a great deal of solo acoustic guitar work. There are some touchingly personal notes on Memory
as well - Saturday
, a short track featuring Jamie alone with his guitar, talks about his father's death, and I Ain't Your Boy
paints an incredible picture of a man who feels like a stranger in his own life. Lenman's talent for writing really shines on these tracks.
There are a couple of songs, it must be said, that don't come off quite as well. If You Have To Ask You'll Never Know
and Little Lives
, to me at least, lacked the focus and storytelling that characterises Lenman's writing, and paled in comparison to For God's Sake
and Pretty Please
falls a little short of a coherent release. There isn't a great deal to link the two sides, and most listeners will gravitate to one or the other. However, both sides are exceptionally well constructed, a masterfully orchestrated flood of emotion through the speakers. I hope that Lenman has more where this came from.