A little bit about Jamie Lenman before we talk about his début solo album ‘Muscle Memory’; Lenman was the lead vocalist/guitarist and main songwriter for Camberley rockers Reuben. Reuben were identified by melding genres like post hardcore and mathcore together with grunge. The band would then sprinkle melody and hooks into the mix to create brilliantly intriguing and challenging rock music that was strengthened with hugely memorable choruses.
The reason why this context is important to Lenman’s début album is the record is split into two discs that focus on both sides of his writing style. The first disc deals with the heavier side of Lenman’s music and generally takes the form of the louder moments on Reuben’s last album ‘In Nothing We Trust’. Fans of songs like ‘We’re All Going Home in an Ambulance’ and ‘Blood, Bunny, Larkhall’ will know exactly what to expect on this side of the record.
The second disc sees Lenman explore his more melodious side in greater depth and is far more eclectic in its instrumentation. This side of the record features a far more stripped back, semi-acoustic sound that isn’t afraid to venture into more elaborate styles and puts Lenman’s brilliant storytelling at the forefront of the music.
So let’s begin with the heavier side of ‘Muscle Memory’. This side of the record is going to be the more polarising of the two as without the dusting of melody that features so heavily in Reuben’s music it lacks a lot of what made that band so important to a lot of people. Beginning with ‘Six Fingered Hand’, Lenman screams his way through a growling, riff-heavy slab of alt-metal that never lets up. This becomes the key theme on this side of the record and it draws comparison to bands like Botch, The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Armed. Lenman rarely breaks into song and keeps up his absolutely raging scream for the entire length of the disc. This is really intense stuff.
The highlight comes with lead single ‘Fizzy Blood’, an unapologetically harsh track that features some of the best riffs on the album. It’s also bolstered with some lovely backing vocals that add some rare melody and help make the song a lot more memorable. This unfortunately highlights a problem with this disc in that when melody gets a chance to rear its head it makes the songs far more engaging as is apparent in ‘No News is Good News’ and ‘Shower of Scorn’.
This disc reaches its tipping point when the enormous, grinding groove of ‘Gary, Indiana’ kicks in. The song is bizarrely similar to Pantera in its structure and features the biggest, throat-tearing roar that Lenman can muster.
The first side of ‘Muscle Memory’ is an unashamedly noisy racket and Lenman clearly enjoys showing his heavier side without the inclusion of sung choruses like his previous band’s music. The problem is is that the songs often have trouble carrying themselves without a big riff or hook to grip the listener. I hate to keep calling on Lenman’s work in Reuben for comparison, but the majority of his fan-base is going to be looking for these hooks and it’s going to be a difficult thing for the man to shake.
In contrast, the second side of ‘Muscle Memory’ absolutely revels in melody, choruses and hooks and there isn’t a song on it that won’t wriggle its way into your psyche. Lenman is an absolute joy to listen to when he puts that sultry croon of his on show and his storytelling has never been better.
What’s so engaging about this side of the record is that Lenman opens his song-writing up to a huge variety of styles that sees opener ‘Shotgun House’ being completely ukulele-led. Lenman’s vocal inflections make him sound like Lily Allen and her song ‘Alfie’ in particular. The banjo is used liberally on songs like ‘It’s Hard to Be a Gentleman’ and ‘For God’s Sake’. ‘A Day in the Life’ is a bloody marching song. This is extremely diverse stuff.
This side of the record is also far more intimate in style and the semi-acoustic nature of it brings to mind Lenman’s acoustic work on Reuben b-sides like ‘What’s Good For Me’ which also succeeded in putting Lenman’s outstanding song-writing and storytelling at the forefront.
That isn’t too say this side of the record isn’t without its eccentricities. Lenman finds time to do his best impression of The Pogues on the rollicking ‘If You Have to Ask You’ll Never Know’ and things get even more bombastic on ‘Pretty Please’ which is stuffed with swing beats and leans on a big band approach. I also recognised a similar melody to Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Something Stupid’ on ‘A Quiet Understanding’. Lenman has thrown everything in his repertoire at this side of the album and it’s just glorious to listen to.
So how the hell do we sum up such a bizarre and challenging record? ‘Muscle Memory’ is very literally an album of two sides and while the heavy side of Jamie Lenman’s music can sometimes fall flat without his trademark melody, the side of the record which focuses solely on his beautiful song-writing succeeds on many, many levels. There’s an awful lot to love about Jamie Lenman’s ‘Muscle Memory’ and while not all of it works, a far higher margin of songs do and it reminds you exactly why this man’s music is so special to so many people. Welcome back Jamie you crazy bastard.
Jamie Lenman’s ‘Muscle Memory’ is out November 4th of Xtra Mile Recordings. Pre-order it now.