Jamie Lenman – ‘Devolver’ (Album Review)
To members of the UK’s underground rock scene, Jamie Lenman is nothing short of a hero. Since his old band Reuben split almost ten years ago, the memory of their albums Racecar Is Racecar Backwards, Very Fast Very Dangerous, and In Nothing We Trust remains in many brains and smartphone hard drives, as well as 2000 Trees institution Camp Reuben, where die-hard Lenman fans gather to sing Reuben covers all night long.
For about a decade, Reuben fans have wondered when their favourite band would finally reunite. In that time, the ex-members of Reuben who aren’t Jamie Lenman (namely bassist Jon Pearce and drummist Guy Davis) formed Freeze The Atlantic, while the ex-member of Reuben who is Jamie Lenman – Jamie Lenman – took a break from music and returned in 2013 with his double solo album, Muscle Memory.
Although Jamie Lenman was the main creative force behind Reuben, Muscle Memory did not sound like Reuben. Instead it split in two directions; its first half, Muscle, was made up of brutally heavy tracks, while the second half, Memory, showcased a wide range of softer styles. Compare One Of My Eyes Is A Clock to Shotgun House, and you’ll see how diverse Jamie Lenman’s talents are.
As epic as Muscle Memory was, it still left Reuben fans hungry for more music in the vein of…well…Reuben. It also left tantalising questions hanging in the air. Would Reuben reform? Was Jamie Lenman saving his more integrated songs for that fateful day?
Devolver answers those queries with a single word. No. This is Jamie Lenman’s poppiest outing to date, but more than that, it’s a career-defining album that makes one thing very clear.
The main mind behind Reuben has officially moved on. There are plenty of traces of the band I’ve mentioned too many times by now scattered throughout Devolver. Equally notable is Lenman’s willingness to wear a certain influence on his sleeve – namely that of Nine Inch Nails and its own main mind, Trent Reznor. But Devolver is no nostalgia trip. It’s as fresh and vital as every other Lenman-related album to date.
If Reuben had ever reformed and written a new album, this is what it would have sounded like. In a couple of weeks, it’ll be released for the world to hear. So why bother pining for the old days?
Maybe it’s time to let go of the past.
The mark of a mature artist is a pronounced sense of self-awareness, and opener Hard Beat makes Jamie Lenman’s own awareness known within seconds as the man himself takes apart the experience of listening to a solo artist’s work through headphones. Lyrically, it’s a perfect first song – and musically it incorporates those previously noted Reuben and NIN elements, setting us up for Waterloo Teeth, a song that wouldn’t sound too out of place on Racecar Is Racecar Backwards. Lenman’s inner Reznor gets aired again on the religiously concerned Personal, which falls somewhere between In Nothing We Trust and Muscle while subtle synth work gives it that definitive Devolver flavour.
Those dissatisfied with the state of the modern music industry will enjoy Body Popping, a comparatively low-key slice of prime post-hardcore; brief interlude Comfort Animal offers space for producer Space to leave his mark; and Mississippi remains, hands down, Jamie Lenman’s greatest song to date. That track is just fucking peerless, although I guess you could compare the laughing/whooping in the intro to the start of Reuben’s version of Feel Good Inc.
At a stretch.
On second thought, no. Mississippi sees Jamie Lenman hit an all-time high, laying down some of his most soul-baring words ever over an undeniable, irresistible Groove with a capital G. The force of The Fragile is strong in Mississippi, but it’s no mere pastiche, just an outright winner.
Beyond this point, Devolver starts getting more fun with the bouncy Fast Car and Jamiroquai-evoking funk monster I Don’t Know Anything, in which a Reuben fan gets mistaken for a fruit thief and Jamie Lenman’s thinking is changed forever. Bones aims bile at bands who break up and reunite soon after, and it’s not too hard to read between the lines as Lenman states “I’ve got to ask – what do you do it for? Is it really music you adore?”
There’s also a smoky Submotion Orchestra-style horn solo on Bones, before Jamie Lenman makes a very valid Elvis-related point that I’ll leave unexplained here. Suffice it to say that Bones is very obviously about how non-existent the chances of Reuben reforming are. By this point, getting close to the very end of Devolver, it’s a fair point to make: Reuben are gone, and this album now occupies the space where they once stood. Things have changed, and a Reuben reformation would only be valid were they to play a bunch of shows together, thus making them the kind of nostalgia act railed against here.
Penultimate song All Of England Is A City stomps with blunt-force intensity while Jamie Lenman recounts a surreal, violent nightmare. Then we’re down to Devolver’s title track, a slow and melancholy song which would fit over the credits to a downbeat ‘80s movie, at least for its first few minutes. Lenman’s self-awareness comes full circle as he ponders his place in the universe and comes to declare his own irrelevance.
Running at six minutes and including a short piano solo, towering Zeppelin riff section, and soothing synth-heavy outro, Devolver the song is both lyrically humble and musically grandiose, while never crossing the line into overwhelm, self-indulgence, or pretentiousness. It’s a tightrope walked masterfully, as is Devolver the album as a whole.
Honestly, until I heard Devolver those niggly Reuben-related questions were always lurking in the back of my mind. But after listening to Jamie Lenman’s latest set of statements, they’ve been rendered irrelevant. To return to that point during Bones, if you dug Elvis’s remains up, he wouldn’t be able to perform for you. The same plainly applies to Reuben – and if Jamie, Jon, and Guy are happy enough doing what they’re doing, there’s no longer any need to question it.
There will never be another Reuben, but really, we don’t need one. Reuben’s influence will live on, their albums will continue to be loved, and the people who recorded those albums will keep on moving in their own directions. The rest of us might as well follow them with the same enthusiasm not only because staring into the past gets boring after a decade of doing it, but because Devolver exists, and it’s time to get excited about the future again.
LTK RATING: 97% (Essential Listening!)
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Devolver drops October 27; pre-order it on iTunes here.