Strangely, I was never that into Reuben in their heyday. I was heavily into pop-punk and not much else during my school years, so underground UK post-hardcore trios weren’t high on my list in the mid-2000s. I’ve grown up a tad since then, and can well and truly recognise the impact they made on the UK rock scene and what a shame it was to see them disband. Their members have involved themselves in various projects since Reuben became no more, but frontman JAMIE LENMAN has instead leant himself to projects such as video producing and illustrating. Thankfully, his musical hiatus has ended and the piece of work is double album MUSCLE MEMORY.
The usual move for a musician who leaves a band, especially one of Rueben’s stylings, and starts a solo career is that of a mellowing. Think those who frequent the Revival Tour, Frank Turner and Chuck Ragan leaving punk bands behind to lend themselves to acoustic folk-punk beard-stroking thoughtfulness. Even Muscle Memory’s artwork leans you towards this thinking, however upon hitting ‘play’ on the first disc this idea is picked up by the scruff of the neck and tossed from the 19th storey window. Opening track “The Six Fingered Hand” is the most brutal thing Lenman has ever done, with thick riffs and desperate vocals setting the tempo for the first of the two discs. The punk-inspired ‘Fizzy Blood’ is a stand out moment, as is the Reuben-esqe ‘A Plague On Both Your Houses’. Lenman is an astonishing musician and this might be ‘Muscle”s biggest downfall, as the boundaries of what should happen are pushed to the limit with barely-there riffs and ridiculous time signatures that are very reminiscent of some early Biffy Clyro musicianship; you can tell who their influences were as a young band!
The second disc, titled ‘Memory’ is full of banjos, trumpets and ukuleles and shines as art for an completely contrasting reason. The swing elements in ‘Pretty Please’ are a joy to behold, so much so that I wish that there were more of it. A Jamie Lenman swing album in the future? I’d certainly welcome it! The polar opposite of his ‘Muscle’ vocals are on show on ‘Memory’, and it’s a real testament to him that they come across just as impressively. ‘Saturday Night’ is a harrowing and emotional tale of his father’s death, and a personal favourite comes in the shape of folk-rock soon-to-be-anthem ‘I Ain’t Your Boy’, which is sure to be a live favourite, and rightly so.
This release is something daring, complex and at times confusing, certainly unique. It takes real guts to stay away from the music scene for 4-5 years and then dive back in feet-first with not only a double-album of 22 tracks, but one on which the material is so diverse and separated. One thing it does tell us is that Lenman will not stop here, anyone with this much understanding of such different musical styles can surely have an abundance of material ready to work on, fingers crossed he does anyway! Congratulations Jamie, you’ve delighted both the hardcore fan and the jazz fan inside of me with one record. I honestly never thought I’d say that…