Jamie Lenman has earned the right to do whatever the fuck he wants. To call it a ‘career’ would be to break the spell somewhat, but a life spent on the front line should afford some self-indulgence now and again.
Not that Lenman’s third solo album is in any way as simple as a flight of introspective fancy. ‘Shuffle’ is instead something unique and personal, yet not so obtuse it excludes the rest of us. Yes, it’s ‘sort of’ a covers record, but at the same time, it's anything but. Cast aside those TV talent show competition winners belting out their balladificated versions of songs you used to love but now can no longer stomach. There’s no danger of that here. New versions, reinterpretations and inspirations of things which have influenced or been held dear, this is anything but a lazy record cashing in on the hard work of others.
More inventive than even the best covers albums, the wells Lenman draws on are varied and, at times, fascinating. Though there are versions of songs you know, some of the brightest moments come from way out of left field. At one point, he even belts out his own take on the theme from retro cartoon classic ‘Popeye’ and - against all the odds - pulls it off with credit still in the bank. There are music inspired by a chapter from his favourite book, or a scene from his favourite short film. There are moments snatched from video games, scores and countless other flickering gems, too. ‘Shuffle’ isn’t like any other record you’ve heard.
All of which creates a platform for some truly brilliant bangers. Lenman’s version of Adamski’s ‘Killer’ is brooding, claustrophobic and staggeringly good, while his take on ‘Hey Jude’ takes Paul McCartney’s wheel-it-out, never-ending clap-along refrain and turns it into something both joyous and sinister.
In an era of carefully curated self-expression, ‘Shuffle’ is an album that draws us into Jamie Lenman’s world in a more personal way than mere words and pictures ever could. An audio autobiography, it’s devilishly smart, wonderfully intimate and fascinatingly unique. Covers album? Yeah, sure, but it’s also so much more.