Jamie Lenman – ‘King of Clubs’

By Ash Bebbington

It’s hard to know what to expect before pushing play on Jamie Lenman’s latest album, ‘King of Clubs’. Lenman is an artist who’s built a solo career on confounding expectations, never taking the most obvious route. Trying to guess the direction he’ll go in next is a fool’s errand, and it’s is a big part of what makes his work so interesting.

After all, this is the man whose solo debut album ‘Muscle Memory’ is split in two halves; the first half full of abrasive, extreme metal, the second containing a variety of genres including bluegrass, big band jazz, and acapella. His second, ‘Devolver’, is a varied album where every song sounds completely different. Incredibly, it all holds together as a cohesive record, and is one of his finest works. His third, the eccentric but wonderful ‘Shuffle’, is a covers album, but one unlike any you’ve heard before. Its tracklisting included a metallic cover of ‘Hey Jude’, a hardcore rendition of the Popeye theme tune, and ‘Love Song for a Vampire’ from the 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Needless to say, expecting the unexpected is something you learn to do with Lenman’s work.

‘King of Clubs’ does indeed take an unexpected turn, returning to the hard rock sound that won Lenman such acclaim with Reuben in the noughties, plus a dash of the heavier half of ‘Muscle Memory’ thrown in for good measure. Reuben fans can rejoice – some of the songs on here are short, snappy hard rock songs that wouldn’t feel out of place on Reuben’s first two albums, while some are more expansive works that would fit neatly on ‘In Nothing We Trust’.

That’s not to say that he stays within his comfort zone on ‘King of Clubs’, though – instead, he approaches familiar sounds with a raft of new ideas. This is a Jamie Lenman record after all. ‘Summer of Discontent (The Future is Dead)’ features London-based rapper Illaman of PENGSHUi – a massive departure from collaborations Lenman has done in the past, and one that works well. The song is built around a massive, low end riff and a monumental chorus, feeling like the kind of track that will be in Lenman’s live sets for years to come. The opening vocal hooks on ‘Like Me Better’ are delivered in a different vocal style to anything else in Lenman’s back catalogue, while title track ‘King of Clubs’ is an expansive, proggy song that is largely instrumental, with some atmospheric background vocals low in the mix.

If ‘Shuffle’ was Lenman’s covers album, ‘King of Clubs’ is his riffs album. ‘Sleep Mission’ features a filthy, repetitive riff that becomes a real earworm after repeated listens. The verses have a slow, almost foreboding groove that builds to a chaotic chorus, with wailing guitars and screamed vocals. ‘Like Me Better’ is the most experimental and laid back track on the album, centring on a picked guitar part and an understated bassline. The song starts out quiet and groovy, but slowly builds towards a huge riff, after which the song explodes into life, mimicking the earlier sections of the song but in a much louder, more bombastic style.

Lyrically, Lenman is a man with something to say on this record. This is most evident on ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend’, which rails against people who convince themselves that they’re good people, while behaving in a way that proves they are anything but. This includes people who misbehave when they’re drinking, and people who troll others online. However, the song takes a much more serious turn towards the end as Lenman sings “if you’re a bigot when you’re cross you still are when you’re calm / even unsaid words can do real harm” – a brilliant riposte to anyone who’s ever uttered the phrase “I’m not bigoted, but…” with any degree of sincerity. The song also invites the listener to take responsibility for their actions and the impact they can have on others, and not lie to themselves by hiding behind convenient excuses.

‘Kill Me’ is a loud, nihilistic track that wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Muscle Memory’. The guitar is raucously off-kilter, and the vocals are harsh, but in between the extremity there are quieter sections with a spoken word style vocal that is almost whispered into the mic. These sections help to pull the song together, and make the heavy parts hit harder when they come in. The album rounds off with title track ‘King of Clubs’, a prog metal song whose only vocals are extremely low in the mix as ambient noise. It’s great to see an artist still pushing himself and innovating on his seventh record (if you count Reuben’s albums in his back catalogue).

This is by some distance his shortest album, clocking in at just 25 minutes. However, this was a conscious choice. According to Lenman, the anger and political themes that permeate through the record means that he “wouldn’t have wanted to make a full album like this, I think it would have been too much”.

The album definitely works as a concise selection of songs, but when the quality is this high, it’s hard not to want a few more tracks. Once the album ends, there’s a sense of being left with wanting more. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Wanting to push play again as soon as it’s over is the sign of a great record. Jamie Lenman is one of the best songwriters in the British rock scene today, and this record is a fine addition to a stellar back catalogue. All hail the King of Clubs.


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