Kings & Queens
, October 12th, 2009 07:33
There's something quite creepy and off-putting about the fawning adoration the broadsheet music press harbour for Jamie Alexander Treays. Like a prim and sensible teenage girl who was seduced by the roguish charm of a cocky older lad she met on holiday and now spends her time pining for the day they are reunited, the nation's music hacks have been yearning for the cheeky troubadour to return and excite them with his ribald balladry. They seem to derive some perverse vicarious thrill from his tales of naughty boys in punch ups and sweary girls in boozers. Singing about such 'real' topics is, apparently, enough to see you christened as a 21st century cross between Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer; and surely no-one tackling such 'real' subject matter could possibly be rubbish.
How else to explain the almost unanimous praise for 'Sheila', the breakout single from Jamie T's 2007 debut Panic Prevention, in which a cast of pantomime characters got into various scrapes and scuffles on one debauched night "by the river" in the capital city? Rather than critique its broad cartoonish brush strokes - daubed so thickly as to smudge any real perception or insight - critics revelled in a three minute snapshot of a fictional seedy underbelly, all the while listening on expensive headphones. It's a bit like the sonic equivalent of Wayne Rooney's Street Striker, where well-to-do types watch on fuck-off big screen TV's as uncouth youths from housing estates attempt to control footballs hurled at them from the top of residential tower blocks: all the thrills and spills of rowdy London life, with some catchy pop hooks and huge choruses thrown in to stop it from ever getting too gritty.
So it continues with Kings & Queens, which retreads much of the same urban tropes which catapulted Jamie T into the mainstream. The jaunty skiffle of opening track '368', for example, is an ode to the joys of binge drinking, with its title inspired by the amount of beer one needs to consume to end up a dribbling, quivering wreck with their head stuck in a lavatory bowl. Yet Treays lacks the light-hearted touch or caustic wit of, say, Alex Turner or Mike Skinner - his most obvious contemporaries - and tries to compensate with over-wrought tough talk. However dextrous his rapid-fire delivery may be, lines such as "Is it the clothes, the bullet holes, or the shit up your nose" and "Ketamine Jim he had a spin, went mad and got sectioned" fail to convince. The same can be said, too, for the breathless bouncing of lead single 'Sticks and Stones', in which Treays brags of a past when "I was ten a day, how'd you say, a little shit/ White lighting, heightening all my courage, quick wit". It races along at a nice pace and boasts a rollicking chorus, but sadly it's the adolescent insult of telling a group of antagonists to "shut their mouths and go suck their momma's dicks" that lingers in the mind.
Elsewhere, Treays does attempt to broaden his horizons both sonically and lyrically, but the results are patchy. 'British Intelligence' is a confused swipe at the authorities that rehashes the same muddled Big Brother style conspiracy theories as Muse's The Resistance , seething with aimless rage at being "watched by surveillance cameras" and "identity cards". There's also an ill-advised attempt at funk with the plodding 'Earth, Wind & Fire' which is bereft of both spark and swagger. Frustratingly, glimpses of Treays' talent appear in flashes throughout the album; highlights include the sky-scraping guitar of 'Hocus Pocus' and infectious 'Chaka Demus' with its Banana Splits pillaging backdrop, while there's a manful attempt at tender acoustic strumming on both 'Emily's Heart' and 'Jilly Armeen', all of which serves to make the low points all the more galling. There's a talented songwriter waiting to emerge from behind the laddish bravado, but until then, most of the material on Kings & Queens will grate far more than it gratifies.