The Theory Of Whatever is a mix of raucous anthems and ballads that still sound delightfully quirky and uniquely Jamie T.
Earlier in the year it suddenly dawned on me that of all the artists to have come out the woodwork post-lockdown, Jamie T had been remarkably quiet. Six years had passed since fourth album Trick and his social media channels had posted very little in the years since. Now in his mid-30s, had the South London singer-songwriter secretly called it a day and forgotten to inform the rest of us? I tweeted my followers to ask the question and tagged Jamie T, hoping someone would be able to shed light.
The bat signal worked (or so I like to think!) as shortly after a picture of a (“f***ing”) croissant would appear on his channels, with a knowing wink to the incoming 15th anniversary of debut Panic Prevention and a reference to album opener ‘Brand New Bass Guitar’. Later he’d announce a re-release of his iconic record and that “yeah, yeah, new music is coming”. With Jamie T having had extended breaks between albums before (five years between 2009’s Kings & Queens and 2014’s Carry On The Grudge), it meant we’d been through all this before and shouldn’t have been surprised: it was just a relief to hear that he was recording music again.
During the late-‘00s, Jamie T would establish himself as a favourite of the burgeoning UK indie rock scene with songs like ‘Sheilah’, ‘If You Got The Money’ and ‘Sticks and Stones’ infamous for their anthemic, quick-witted styles. He combined the spirit of Joe Strummer, as well as the genres of ska and rap together to create a uniquely quirky performer. When anxious love ballad ‘Don’t You Find’ dropped in 2014, it was a time less hospitable to guitar acts, yet Jamie T’s return after five years was heralded with prodigal son status. His next two album, released over the next couple of years, were largely celebrated on the whole and with a lack of competition from mainstream guitar bands, his popularity soared to new depths - even if 2014’s Carry On The Grudge by far trumped 2016’s underwhelming Trick.
The question remained though: with such a long absence, would Jamie T be able to fit back into the acclaimed position he’d held six years earlier? Judging by new album The Theory of Whatever the answer is a resounding yes. His new one is a wonderful collection of unique ballads, indie rock bangers and more experimental tunes that slip outside the comfort zone he lay in a little too often on his previous album.
‘90s Car’ reveals an unexpected vulnerability to kick off proceedings, poking fun at himself with a poetic poise we’ve come to expect ("They talk to me the same way that they talk to Police, with an air of distaste, a bell of hate, welcome to the working week"). It follows perfectly into ‘The Old Style Raiders’, a tender banger full of inspiration and fighting for the things you believe in. He recently revealed on Tim’s Burgess' Listening Party to finding the song on his computer and having little recollection of recording or writing it – you have to wonder what other hidden gems he has stored away! It’s already a song of the year contender for me.
‘Keying Lamborghinis’ has the singer venture into more old school Hip Hop inspired production territory, the end result an ominous number featuring a sinister piano melody and synths, accompanied by eerie, chopped vocals. It’s thoroughly encapsulating and the “she’s keying Lamborghinis in my mind!’ hook is one that leaves a lasting impressing long after the song fades out. A similar vibe is achieved on ‘Sabre Tooth’, another darkened anthem with cynicism running through its vein (“Pay what you say with truth, yeah / I run the eight for you / I pray for hateful news”).
Where Jamie T has always worked best is when he’s producing indie bangers for live bouncing and singalong consumption (‘Zombie’, ‘Tescoland’, ‘Sticks & Stones’) and he achieves this excellently with the jangly Marr-esque ‘A Million & One New Ways To Die’. It feels like a departure from the other tracks on the record, but provides some respite to the anxiety and vulnerability found elsewhere. The eclectic nature of the album should be applauded, with more risks being taken than his last two records. More often than not it pays off.
However, I’d be lying if I said the ballads on the records weren’t a mixed bag. “Drinking on my own again and again / lost in the shame” admits Jamie T on the brilliant ‘Old Republican’, sounding regretful and embittered, an acoustic guitar and strings providing extra tension. ‘Talk Is Cheap’ on the other hand feels clunky and uninspired, whilst closer ’50,000 Unmarked Bullets’ drags on until you have the desire to press skip. Having said that, by the end, we learn to quickly forgive the few mishaps and reflect back with optimism at his return.
The Theory Of Whatever is a varied mix of ballads, raucous anthems and darker moments throughout. The tension has been increased, but the enjoyment still remains. Jamie T doesn’t always hit the mark here, but he’s provided so many memorable moments to counter any negativity. With his first UK number 1 album now under his belt, the appeal for the singer is as strong as ever. Its just great to have one of British rock ‘n’ rolls biggest characters back after a six year absence, producing music that still sounds delightfully quirky and uniquely Jamie T.