The term ‘covers album’ is undoubtedly a dirty one. Rock covers albums fall into two categories; vanity projects that are utter dross, or Garage Inc. Essentially it’s fair to say that covers albums are a pointless endeavour that only seek to serve an artist’s ego as they relive the music that they love to the benefit of none but themselves. Even though it completely slams, even Garage Inc. falls into that category. More often than not the covers are half hearted and cynical, simply trading on the popularity of another artist – we all remember the trashy nu metal covers of the late nineties. How refreshing then to get an album of covers that trades on reinterpretation rather than stock imitation, one that really breaks down and rebuilds what it is that makes songs great, and one that takes esoteric and eclectic choices rather than hits for the sake of lucrative singles. Of course an album of such grandeur could only come from one of Britain’s greatest songwriters; Jamie Lenman.
Lenman’s nous for musicianship is apparent from the album’s beginning. As a synthesiser rises in pitch playing a lilting riff and a hard hitting 4/4 drum beat joins it, Tomorrow Never Knows originally by The Beatles, begins. Lenman manages the implausible and updates the song for 2019, bringing his personal charm and verve, creating lush harmonies in the vocal lines as well as addictively groovy guitar phrases. It’s likely to be one of the better known tracks on the album being from the band who it’s fair to say reinvented music on a global scale, but foreknowledge of the track doesn’t detract from the enjoyment one will get from Jamie’s reinvention, done with a panache worthy of the mighty Liverpudlians themselves. The same can be said for penultimate track, Hey Jude, which begins as a Gallagher-esque football chant before being accompanied by that inimitable guitar tone and playing style. Anyone who can reinterpret some of the most beloved music in existence without it sounding hackneyed or cynical must be applauded.
Mr Lenman’s inspirations for the album don’t simply cease at rock however; there is influence taken from myriad genres and soundtracks to sink your teeth into as a listener. Whether it’s the lumbering menace of Adamski and Seal’s Killer, the dance inflected Cyndi Lauper’s She Bop or the sombre rendition of Annie Lennox’s Love Song For A Vampire, the ingenuity needed to pull it all off is laudable and dextrous, yet again proving Lenman a master of his craft. He also takes inspiration from far further afield in the creation of Shuffle, with a passage taken from Herman Melville’s opus, Moby Dick for The Pequod Meets The Delight, a jazzy reinvention of the satiating Taxi Driver theme, and even music from the lesser known Super Nintendo Entertainment System game, Wolverine: Adamantium Rage. Coda appears to be an original piece, and aptly acts as coda to the first half of the album, following two interlude pieces that come in the wake of the bizarre but massively enjoyable and headbangable Popeye theme tune cover. The album is superbly paced with these intermissions and moments of respite, making it feel not wholly dissimilar to Lenman’s second solo album, the stunning Devolver, with gentle ebbing and flowing of heaviness and subtlety crashing together to make for a dynamic adventure.
What Jamie Lenman has done is nothing short of marvellous. So often a covers album, as has been mentioned, is just a cynical move to make a quick buck, but Shuffle is so much more. It is an album of deeply personal imagination and reconstruction of songs that clearly hold a special place in Lenman’s heart. As far as rock covers go this far surpasses pretty much anything that has ever been released, including the titanic Garage Inc., and frankly this album should be regarded in the same reverence as Annie Lennox’s Medusa and Johnny Cash’s American series. The album is dynamic, esoteric and downright brilliant, switching effortlessly between styles but maintaining a cohesive sound that only Lenman can muster. In terms of the heavy end of the spectrum, this might just be the greatest covers album ever. More broadly speaking this will go down in history as one of the great covers albums, and will rightly be judged in the pantheon of the greats of its ilk.
Shuffle, the new album from Jamie Lenman, is released today, July 5th 2019 on Big Scary Monsters.