IIt’s widely accepted that we live in a time when rock and pop artists need to stay in constant contact with their fans: there’s so much music coming out, you need to constantly remind people that you exist. Anyone looking for an alternate theory might consider Jamie Treays. Every album he’s released since his 2007 debut has made the Top 5, but his social media presence is minimal, he rarely gives interviews and his career has been littered with lengths where nothing seems to happen. at all. There was a five-year gap between her second album, Kings and Queens, and her third, Carry on the Grudge. The Theory of Whatever comes six years after its predecessor, Trick, and features a cover photo of Treays, now 36, playing golf. He summed up his attitude during his recent headlining appearance on the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury. “I don’t give a fuck anymore,” he offered. “Thank you for coming to see us, but it really doesn’t change my life. I don’t give a fuck. I’d play in an empty room, I don’t care.
There’s clearly an element of self-preservation involved here: Treays has suffered from anxiety since he was a teenager, a problem that a line on the new 90s song Cars – about “thinking too much when I try to m ‘fall asleep’ – suggests is still going on. Still, you wonder if his avoidance of overexposure had a positive effect on his career.
When he arrived, he sounded like a mid-2000s entertainer: a singer-songwriter who sang in a gorblimey South London accent (“Guess the rug wasn’t rolled up ahht”), which pointed out to some observers that he had been to private school; his sound is an amalgamation of thrashy indie rock and ska, with socially observant lyrics and a rap-inspired vocal delivery that carried street influence and then multi-platinum strength. Most of Treays’ peers have long since slipped off the radar – the 2007 year-end lists on which his debut album Panic Prevention featured prominently also included the Klaxons, the View, Jack Peñate, the Ting Tings, the Pigeon Detectives and the enemy. – But he did not do it. “He thinks of me as a has-been,” Treays sings on the remarkably Blur-esque Thank You, the joke presumably being that he’s nothing of the sort. It’s still headlining festivals and, judging by the crowds at Glastonbury, is now reaping the rewards of growing interest in mid-2000s alternative rock among listeners who were toddlers when Panic Prevention is out. They’ll likely be thrilled by some of The Theory of Whatever’s most guitar-heavy moments – A Million & One New Ways to Die and Between the Rocks among them – that’s easy to imagine coming off Radio 1 between Foundations by Kate Nash and something from the second Kaiser Chiefs album.
His die-hard fans – those who created Where Is Jamie T? social media groups during his absences and debate the exact meaning of his Glastonbury outburst on Reddit – will no doubt say it’s because his work is of a higher quality than his peers: more eclectic, less obviously obsessed with one simple pop version of indie rock. The Anything Theory offers evidence for this view. As well-written and bubbly as the straightforward rock tracks are, the album’s most interesting moments come when Treays strays from that realm. 90s Cars unexpectedly hooks onto Big Star’s haunted, loving Kangaroo, borrowing its first verse and brilliantly recontextualizing it: Layered over New Order-ish bass and giddy lo-fi synths, it feels celebratory, which is ongoing given that the original feels like it’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. While it’s not entirely clear where the St George Wharf tower is heading, as far as the friendly residential skyscraper of Vauxhall is concerned, the melody Treays floats over folk guitar and ambient electronics. is captivating. Lambeth Love’s terror, meanwhile, is painfully slow and sickly: the music sounds like she’s staggering home after a long night out, clinging to the walls for support and wondering if she’s going to vomit.
Everything he tries doesn’t work – it’s a relief when the chaotic rock/rap crossover British Hell comes to an end – but despite its diversity it holds together like an album, the tracks bound together by a rough grain. If Treays’ early career now seems prescient — in 2020, the rap-influenced singer-songwriter is a mainstream pop trope — he still seems like a noticeably different, dirtier proposition. At Glastonbury he mentioned that this album was his last under a major label contract which he had signed as a teenager, a fact he “celebrated”, which some observers interpreted as a sign that he might be considering quitting altogether. He has certainly already mentioned the abandonment of music. But The Theory of Anything is strong and individual enough to suggest otherwise: it could go on forever, as sporadically as it wishes.
This week, Alexis listened
Steve Lacy – Bad Habit
Addictive, erratic sounding but tightly written: amidst a sea of test singles desperate to be summer hits, this could be the song of the season.