One of the year’s most eagerly awaited albums, Kings and Queens
is as convincing as a follow-up gets these days, as Jamie Treays and his musical collaborator Ben ‘Bones’ Coupland expand on 2007’s acclaimed Panic Prevention
without any obvious concessions. Playing virtually every instrument, the pair may not sound quite like a band, but they sure sound human. The opening "368" defies easy categorisation, perhaps capturing some of the feel of MIA’s Clash-sampling "Paper Planes" while "Hocus Pocus", effectively the title track, is as unfocussed and entertaining as a messy evening out. The Clash are an influence throughout but it’s the underrated Combat Rock
era, where their influences stretched beyond America to encompass the world, that leaves a mark. Kings and Queens
is very much a London record for all that, but these days the whole world makes up the capital, and plenty of local types turn up here. "Sticks’n’Stones" even rhymes ‘shooting gallery’ with ‘Jeremy’, in possibly the most middle-class drug reference ever made, while "Emily’s Heart" is as weary and lovely as the Lemonheads’ classic "My Drug Buddy". The cutely titled "Chaka Demus" is witty and cheerful (‘there’s an Englishman in every coward’, declares Treays), the warped folk of "Spider’s Web" steamrollers the concept of musical authenticity, while "Castro Dies", with distinctly grimy keyboard stabs lifting the chorus, resists cliche. Stranger still "Earth Wind and Fire" welds an urban dance beat to a country-rock stadium chorus, with unexpected success. Tellingly though the simple, affecting "Jilly Armeen" that closes the album, with whistling and fingerpicking, is an instant fan favourite. As pop savvy as Lily Allen and as diverting as Mike Skinner at his sharpest, Kings and Queens
is as prime as any British pop in 2009. --Steve Jelbert
In 2007, Jamie Treays, then a scrappy 21-year-old from south London, released Panic Prevention, a debut that showed a young man in possession of a rare, cocksure talent; a devilish storyteller who might conquer the world, armed with little more than an acoustic guitar and a glottal stop.
Despite impressive reviews and a Mercury nomination, however, the album failed to inspire a wider audience. Treay's problem, perhaps, was that he was paddling in the same estuarine shallows as Mike Skinner and Just Jack — semi-spoken, semi-rapped, skiffley wide boy accounts of modern urban life, full of nights out, loves lost and lessons learned. The pity of it was that neither artist came close to matching his prowess; indeed there are few narrative songwriters working today who can rival Treay — a fact that his second offering only serves to underline.
Kings and Queens is unarguably a more polished performance, the songs grander and glossier than his debut, but happily Treays has lost none of his rambunctious charm; he brings a wit and a wisdom, not to mention an appetite for the faintly grisly, to these tales. At times, he's still the excitable young hoodlum we met on Panic Prevention — in the perky, puppy-dog punk of singles Chaka Demus and Sticks 'n' Stones, for instance. The hooks are irrepressible, bounding in all joyful and unruly on 368 and Earth, Wind and Fire as well as the brawling hip hop of The Man's Machine.
His songs have always displayed a passion for London, for all the rattle and the rabble of the city, but while on Panic Prevention the tales could occasionally stray into the loutish, here on Kings and Queens his writing and his delivery have gained a little composure, as if he's no longer always in the thick of it, but on occasion an inquisitive onlooker. It is perhaps this stance that has allowed a new and intriguing delicacy to creep into his work.
The album's highlight, Emily's Heart, is perhaps the most fragile of his compositions to date, an impeccably-plotted murder ballad, the story of a love besmirched that is, characteristically, deliciously macabre. It is, one hopes, a hint of Treay's work to come — more refined, perhaps, but just as ghoulish and infectious. --Laura Barton
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