Jamie T - Kings & Queens (2009)


Not that even Treays finds such a task simple. The Wimbledon troubadour encountered the usual Second Album Syndrome blues as he worried about how to follow 2007's Mercury-nominated Panic Prevention. Kings and Queens very nearly ended up a Dylanesque acoustic set and/or a take on US hardcore punk before he and his production partner, Ben Bones, realised that doing what they do but better was probably a smarter idea than career suicide. The result is a 43-minute, all-killer, no-filler set of stunners about city sickness, aimless rebellion and dissolving relationships.

It's hard to pick which of these songs to highlight. It's perhaps more pertinent to look at the places where Jamie T has made a significant leap of faith. 368 - the one about beer and millilitres - is a crucial starting point, its metallic beat connecting it to the hip-hop influences of Panic Prevention that are less marked here. It's almost a tribute to both Paper Planes, and the song MIA's anthem samples, the Clash's Straight to Hell. From there, it's easy to hear how much Joe Strummer's penchant for world music on Sandinista! and Combat Rock informs the frustrated sadness of Kings and Queens, especially on Hocus Pocus (the friends that drag you down), Spider's Web (illicit affairs, Americans comparing Obama to Osama and the intifada/Palmer gag) and British Intelligence (surveillance paranoia).

More surprising is the deft theft of classic British folk on The Man's Machine and the ballad standouts Emily's Heart and Jilly Armeen. The former sees our hero facing the potentially fatal consequences of doing the dirty on a girl with a gun; the latter is deliciously out of character, a self-pitying refusal to write any more songs about a girl who will never return his feelings. But I'm scratching the surface. This is a great state-of-the-city album, in the tradition of Something Else by the Kinks, Parklife and, of course, London Calling, which effortlessly taps into that alienated young male desire for a riot of one's own while acknowledging that, when it comes, you'd prefer to be in a drinking den with the cruel girl of your dreams. Because the Kings and Queens here are pawns in disguise. And Jamie T knows exactly how they feel.

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