Review Summary: Good fun, but not great fun.
Well, Jamie Lenman’s just an odd one, isn’t he? To be fair, having your entire head the spitting image of an 1800s boxer can’t be entirely without a marketing edge (it’s that exact coif that drew me to this record at all, initially). He’s also pretty proud of his remarkably distended teeth, as evidenced by the song “Waterloo Teeth” and the slightly gross artwork of the single. His face and the stark white lettering is all that adorns Lenman’s second solo album Devolver
, and as eye-catching as it is, Lenman’s gummy mug betrays not a single hint at what his music actually sounds like. Is he some neo-jazzist people are into now? An old blues singer? Weird new pop guy? …Opera? Lenman’s even hard to age, and most of my guesses weren’t even close. The old saying about books and covers usually doesn’t apply to music, as musicians are wont to slather their credos, logos and faces boldly on every inch of their records, if possible, but Lenman just stares almost defiantly right of the camera, mouth shut.
The irony of that closed mouth is apparent if you sample one of Devolver
's three video-accompanied tracks on his YouTube channel, where Lenman’s wide maw is on close-up display a fair amount of the time, and always open. Indeed, “loud” might be the one characteristic binding these songs into an album that’s so blankly represented on the visual front. How do you sum up in a 5-inch square space an album so thoroughly and purposefully un-summarizable? By standing still and daring people to laugh at the funny mustache man.
really does pay off that way. It’s a cocky gesture, if you think about it, plastering your stylized face on your work, daring people to mock you and having the confidence that your music is so good it will shut them up. Lenman markets his tracks as well as his facial hair, as the three music videos are obvious standouts on the album, and easily the most suited for radio play or YouTube views. That’s not to say they’re bad songs or some manufactured garbage, in fact none of them even sound all that similar. “Hardbeat” builds from a bubbling, whispered affair of light bobbing, stacking layers of sounds like a block tower before the crash in the final minute. Picking the catchy “Fast Car” as your first Lenman song might cause you to mistake him as a simple grungy punk with a pastel palette. The mildly crunchy riff chugs some palm mutes, Lenman’s vocals never stray from a raw shout and he even swings a sticker-coated Yamaha electric guitar in a few shots of the video. “Mississippi” wouldn’t go astray on an older Nine Inch Nails album. The bleak distortion and thudding Broadrick riff are staggering if you started with the other two tracks, and the NIN comparison becomes apparent when Lenman starts singing, line by line like a rebel with a megaphone. It screams Reznor influence, while the silly spelling lyrics and gang vocals place it closer to Lenman’s court.
Even that doesn’t adequately sum up the parts present on Devolver
. “Bones” sounds like the villainous lounge singer song from a Danny Elfman soundtrack, and “I Don’t Know Anything” touches along the same vein as the glittery soft-focus pop The 1975 were peddling. Lenman will sing a line sonorously, then shout the next track silly. One second you’d swear he’s a funny-faced avant-popster, until you hear “Personal” and “All of England Is a City” bust out threads of Red Hot hard funk. The title doesn't really even make up for the mess. The album doesn't gradually "devolve" into darker tones, and even though some of the songs dirty up considerably by the end, it's not consistent or noticeable enough to be a titular theme. Devolver
's lyrics aren't exactly high thematic prose, either; "Fast Car" being about how younger musicians are trying to kill him I suppose? And for some reason Lenman needs to talk about how "the drums" beat in multiple songs.
It sucks to consider Lenman needs an identity check, because watching him wander around genres like the aisles of a Tesco is genuinely entertaining and full of interesting results. None of the songs presented here are terrible or painful to listen to, but not all of them stick together or in the ear the way “Fast Car” or “Hardbeat” do. With styles flying every which way and Lenman going from 90s alt-rocker to Spencer Chamberlain in under four minutes, it creates a disastrously uneven album with almost no cohesion or even flow. Devolver
IS a cocky move, a flawed move, but probably a release that’ll propel Jamie Lenman into something big…if he can actually fill his own clown shoes.