Jamie T means a lot to many people. At the tail end of the last decade, he built a reputation as a street poet with heart, wit, and insight. He became the King of Festivals as well as an indie anti-heartthrob; he even broke mainstream success with his second album. Then he disappeared completely. No one knew what had happened to him; no new music, no social media, not a whisper. Many rumours surfaced, the most frightening being that he’d left music forever. Whatever the truth may be, Jamie T seems to have undergone a terrible internal struggle judging by the content of his new album. I’ve now spent two weeks with this record, and I found it a cathartic, healing, and liberating experience.
Limits Lie sets the scene for the passing of the storm. A lo-fi guitar mimics sunlight, peeking through a desolate room. The message is clear:
Keep your chin up, I’m a hurricane, Came through the thunder.
The ‘limit’ in question most likely alludes to that of one’s tolerance of life’s struggles. It may even be a lot less metaphorical and indicate substance abuse; after all, Jamie’s life in the past few years has been shrouded in mystery. We’ve all been through hardship in our lives and may have dropped into a frustrating abyss of irrational desperation at some point; this song, and hence this album, is the sound of surfacing out of it. If the middle eight doesn’t move you or make you feel relief and pride in happy commemoration of what you’ve been through – then you are made of stone, my friend.
Don’t You Find is the embodiment of this darkness. It’s electronic, cyclical, languid, and hypnotic. When Jamie T released this as his comeback track, I was amazed at just how contemporary and relevant it sounded. The production is the sound of London in 2014 and its trance wouldn’t be out of place in a nightclub. It seemed as though Jamie T had discovered a new kind of subtlety; that of simple repetition with no opulent wordplay, relying on sheer, immaculate production to create an atmosphere of isolation, introspection and obsession. The reggae strumming is a brilliant touch and the whole track has an ultra-relatable mantra:
Don’t you find some of the time, There is always someone on your mind, That shouldn’t be there at all.
Turn On The Light describes a lifeless lover struggling with a creative hindrance. Most shocking is Jamie’s revealing plea to escape London. Anybody that has lived in a big city can attest to the bittersweet love affair one has with it, but it’s unexpected from the same Wimbledon troubadour who told the timeless stories about outcasts, recluses, belligerent renegades, elated youths, and broken people on city streets. Throughout, you hear the sound of cars passing and the song fades to the sound of rain on gravel in wonderful pathetic fallacy.
The start of Zombie is a heart-wrenching out-pour of unadulterated emotion that quite brashly changes pace to be an ultra-catchy pop tune. I was surprised at the audacity of its simplicity - it is almost annoyingly catchy and the middle eight is a psychedelic wonder; it should make no sense as a song, let alone a single, but it does. By contrast, The Prophet offers a slice of social commentary that we’ve come to expect from Jamie. It’s the emotional low point of the album; a sigh of submission from where things can only get better.
The second half of this record is what makes Carry On The Grudge a great album - it’s a complete change of mood, tempo, and energy. Trouble is funky as hell, and Jamie T pulls off this skunk-funk with cool and integrity intact - he even scats. The stomp and swagger in the verses alongside Jamie’s delivery of albeit, clichéd lyrics, simply works.
My favourite on the album is Rabbit Hole: it’s reminiscent of British Intelligence, with the urgency that’s made Jamie T the infamous party starter. It sounds as though he’s back and up for some fun, with his South London accent in the half-rapped/half-sung glory that has become his staple. The punk influence is undeniable on this one, and it will be absolutely awesome live. Peter is in exactly the same punk vein as Rabbit Hole, and is also sure to be a beast live. It’s a song about his alter-ego, and reveals that Jamie T is no saint.
The final quarter of the album takes the listener to a place that is warm, delicate, and life-affirming; it’s unlike anything I thought Jamie T capable of a month ago. Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away is the sweetest song he’s ever written. It’s delicate yet fast-paced, discerning yet moving, with faultless diction and wordplay. The last couple of songs seem to make a more genuine bid for love. As in Jamie’s most memorable and poignant songs (Sheila, Emily’s Heart), both Love Is Only A Heartbeat Away and They Told Me It Rained are elegiac.
The latter track is the most perfect album closer Jamie T has written thus far; it’s the definite highlight of Carry On The Grudge. Though certain ardent Jamie T fans may argue that it’s devoid from any signature traits that make a song classically his, objectively speaking, it is his best, most well-rounded song. The chorus pierces you upon first listen; the overwhelming vulnerability is married perfectly to the production, walking hand-in-hand and seemingly gripping your heart tightly in between. It showcases the inexplicably dramatic leap his songwriting has taken in between albums, replacing talk/rap, spit-singing, and street brashness with tender, introspective results. Alongside this, Jamie’s voice has dramatically improved over the past five years, leaving the defiant boyish squeal behind for a more wholesome timbre.
This is Jamie T’s best album. Hell, it’s the best album of the year in my opinion (and this year we’ve had some extraordinary additions to our review section). No other album has made me acknowledge my demons, taken me to the depths of them, yet helped me emerge purer and wiser, whilst having raucous, hedonistic fun in the process. Five stars is where my limit lies: a perfect album deserves a perfect score.