Kings and Queens is the second album from Wimbledon born musician Jamie T. His debut, Panic Prevention, was nominated for a Mercury prize, which is like a British version of a Grammy, only based on artistic merit rather than commercial potential.
The 23-year-old, born Jamie Alexander Treays, plays a combination of punk, folk, and hip-hop. Vocally he sounds like Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys channeling Joe Strummer, spitting out heavily accented lines with a gravelly slur. Lyrically, he shares the documentary lyrics of Turner, the Streets, or Lily Allen, combined with a political bent that again brings to mind Strummer.
The album explores several genres, some more successful than others. His attempt at hip-hop works on the poppy "Touch the Sky," in which he talk-sings rather than raps over a lazy beat. "Sticks and Stones" is another winning stab at folky hip hop, but when he goes for a harder rap edge on "Castro Dies," he falls flat.
He's better on folkier material like "Spider's Web" where he rants about terrorist paranoia over a gentle acoustic guitar riff. The single "Emily's Guitar" is essentially a folk song, with Jamie singing over an acoustic guitar. The delicate music is contrasted with Jamie's snarling voice, giving the song an edge not unlike a young, cockney Bob Dylan.
Jamie's strongest point are his lyrics. His songs paint pictures of the daily life of 20-somethings in London, capturing little details with eye of a poet.
"I'm still travelling trains," he sings on "British Intelligence," "Delayed in the rain on a Monday morning/Watched by surveilance teams/Business men live out their dreams and sleep with secretaries/In stockrooms overflowed with coffee and machines."
He also seems to be veering into stream-of-consciousness Dylan territory at points. On "Sticks and Stones" he sings "Well the jokers looking over as he pulling an ace/The militia take cover under my staircase/Witches in the kitchen bitching and itching/While two old school friends haunt the hall ways." It's not quite "Tom Thumb's Blues," but it's in the same vein.
While I liked Jamie's voice, his lyrics, and the way he mashes up different genres, his experiments are not always successful. The songwriting is sometimes lacking, especially on the first third of the album. There are a handful of songs here that are great, but a lot of the tracks don't quite hit the mark.
As a result, Kings and Queens has the feel of an artist exploring his sound but not quite reaching his potential. Kings and Queens is worth listening to for "Touch the Sky," "British Intelligence," "Emily's Guitar" and "Spider's Web," but the best is yet to come from Jamie T.