In planning his follow-up to Panic Prevention, Jamie T considered several options, largely depending on what happened to be influencing his muse at any specific time.
A brief, belated infatuation with Dylan even saw him picking up an acoustic guitar and becoming a nouveau troubadour for a while, before he dropped the idea because "it was just a bit boring". So he hooked back up with his old production partner Ben Bones and set about making the best album he could, without worrying too much.
Accordingly, Kings and Queens ends up being not that dissimilar to its predecessor, although the 2-Tone ska-beat flavour has been replaced by a more generic indie-rock sound, which reflects his deep-seated love of the Clash. The combination of brusque guitars with his hip-hop delivery works well on tracks such as "Sticks 'n' Stones", an Arctic Monkey-esque tableau of lairy friends with too physical a take on life – "When there's no one left to fight, boys like him don't shine too bright" – and the sardonic "British Intelligence", a Clash-tastic take on surveillance paranoia.
But ironically, it's the remnants of his short-lived folkie period – the discipline of melody and sung lyrics, as opposed to rapped, on songs such as "Spider's Web", "Emily's Heart" and "Jilly Armeen" – that really bring the album to more considered life. The latter pair offer contrasting views on the thorny matter of romantic splits: in "Emily's Heart", the protagonist lies dying in the road after ill-advisedly breaking up with a gun-toting girlfriend; while over the acoustic guitar, sparse piano chords and whistling of "Jilly Armeen", the narrator finally summons up the spirit to stop obsessing over a woman who "always went for my friends, and not for me".
Elsewhere, the railroad-gang percussion and mellotron strings of the opener, "368", carry Jamie's musings about how much alcohol it takes to get plastered, while "The Man's Machine" employs oozing double-bass and plaintive piano to colour in a typically dystopian sketch of dead-end urban existence: "Soul, glass, concrete and gravel, all we got to keep us together." But for weirdness, "Earth, Wind and Fire" wins hands down, from the opening snatch of Joan Baez cooing in angelic mode, through another blue-eyed rap and a refrain that sounds uncomfortably like Bono, to a series of changes towards the end that summon up the ghost of prog-rock past.
It's a far cry from Panic Prevention, though the impression is of a talented artist feverishly pushing feelers in all directions, rather than someone who has a firm grasp on the future of rock'n'roll (whatever that might be).
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