Camberley’s Reuben are arguably one of the best kept secrets in rock music. Around the time that local-scene contemporaries Hundred Reasons were achieving breakthrough success, Reuben were struggling to raise their heads above the underground scene, achieving a respectable (but rather modest) mainstream chart position of number 53 with the single ‘Freddy Krueger’. After the release of their Pilot EP in 2001, the final band lineup of vocalist/guitarist Jamie Lenman, bassist Jon Pearce and drummer Guy Davis solidified, and so it came to pass that they released their debut album, the palindromically influenced Racecar is Racecar Backwards.
Two things strike you about this album that are incredibly unusual for a debut – the quality of the songwriting, and the quality of the production. There’s a fantastic awareness of genre, with elements of rock, post-punk, alternative and metal all swirling together under an underlying pop sensibility. It’s a brilliant showcase of Lenman’s songwriting ear, as the trio structure dynamic, interesting verses around hook-laden choruses.
Prime examples include ‘Stuck in My Throat’, which barrels in with a severe riff before morphing into a driving, uplifting verse riff and an even more lofty chorus, before everything closes out with some lush vocal harmonies. ‘Missing Fingers’ features some dissonant, stabbing chords that are almost mathcore in shape, switching quickly into a more melodic, jangling riff. The instrumentation is incredibly tight, with Davis shifting between tempo effortlessly, at times absolutely battering the hell out his kit, at others keeping things steady and minimal. Pearce’s warm bass tones cast an excellent middle ground, mapping out a course that is both complimentary and distinctive.
It’s not all the balls out aggression of heavy hitters like the gnarly ‘Wrong and Sorry’ and the shifting ‘Fall of the Bastille’. Lenman’s hardcore-esque, caustic screams are balanced by his frankly beautiful clean vocal tone. He arguably stood (and still stands) head and shoulders above many of his musical peers, with a voice that is fragile, resonant and unique in equal measure. This lends more melodic, softer turns like the somber yet uplifting album closer ‘Dusk’ and moody yet good-vibes ‘Eating Only Apples’ an infinitely listenable quality.
Racecar … stands as a landmark for Reuben and their ever loyal fanbase. Not only is it their first album, but it is arguably their best, less dynamically varied than the following ‘Very Fast, Very Dangerous’ and seemingly more focused and less experimental than their third (and final) release ‘In Nothing We Trust’. It is a complete, definite entity, with every track complementing every other. It is savage at times, but relentlessly positive throughout.
After their call of hiatus in 2008, the members of Reuben went their separate ways. Jamie Lenman focused on his graphic design and artwork before returning to music with his double solo album ‘Muscle Memory’, which stands on it’s own merits as a stonkingly good listen. Guy and Jon went on to be involved with local scene indie-rock supergroup Freeze the Atlantic. All that said and done, Racecar has stood the test of time incredibly well. If you’ve never heard it, or never heard of Reuben, sort your life out and give it a listen. You’ll never look back.