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Leon Jean Marie - Bent Out Of Shape

Leon Jean Marie, Bent Out Of Shape

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

EAST London hot prospect Leon Jean Marie has confidently lived up to expectations with his debut album Bent Out Of Shape, a funky wonky pop hybrid that’s capable of appealing to fans of artists as diverse as Beck, Gorillaz, Alphabeat and Prince.

Following an unsuccessful stint in an R’n‘B group Leon – inspired by the likes of Beck and Badly Drawn Boy – decided to start over and, while working as a runner in a recording studio, learned his way around a mixing desk, experimenting with his own tunes.

But the path to success wasn’t easy. His parents, wary that Leon was wasting his life, encouraged him to go to college instead and get a proper job. In response, he jacked in university, moved in and out of home, stayed at mate’s houses, slept in his car and even rough on the streets, during which he also dallied in drink, drugs and depression. The experience, though, merely steeled him and inspired many of the songs that make up Bent Out of Shape.

Not that you can expect a hard-hitting, depressing tale of life’s hard knocks (like so many urban artists deliver), but rather a life affirming mix of influences that have plenty to say without ramming any particular message home. Bent Out Of Shape feels like a celebration of triumph against adversity and it’s utterly infectious.

What’s more, it benefits from a who’s who of producers, from Mark Ronson to The Rural and Bloodshy. Ronson, of course, needs little introduction, but The Rural have worked with Gorillaz, while Bloodshy are veterans of Kylie and Britney Spears. It’s clear, then, that Leon has surrounded himself with people who know how to deliver the odd hit – but crucially hits that are capable of crossover appeal.

Needless to say, the highlights fly thick and fast. Album opener Fair is a clap-happy mix of foot-shuffling funk and wonky pop melodies that sound checks Beck and Calvin Harris, while East End Blues delivers its Madness-style observations of London’s darker elements in supremely upbeat style.

Glow is just a fantastic pop record that once again flirts with Beck territory (no bad thing), while the slower, piano-based balladry and suppressed beats of You Must Know find Leon drawing favourable comparisons with the likes of Badly Drawn Boy. The chorus, with its melodic “you must know you are, you must know you are the one”, is a real little gem.

The Mark Ronson influence helps to lend a vital immediacy to former single Bed Of Nails, which draws on Leon’s experiences of sleeping rough, while Bring It On mixes contemporary Gorillaz pop/hip-hop with Steve Miller Band-style classic pop. It’s another instantly catchy head-nodder.

The standard is maintained throughout the rest of the album, with Gotta Have It benefiting from a slinky backbeat and a whole lotta soul; Trusted You trading well on its funky beats and infusion of brass, and some fantastic bass and scratching enlivening the heavy-hitting Scratch (which finds Leon channelling the spirit of Prince and Beck once again).

There’s a charming innocence surrounding the breezy melodies of Jumping Off The Block, while title track and album closer Bent Out Of Shape draws things to a close on a reflective, almost romantic note that merely underlines Leon’s brilliant diversity – whilst confirming you’ll completely have been taken by his musical charms.

By the time you’ve replayed it two or three times, you’ll realise – like me – that Leon has delivered one of the debut releases of the year – and one that’s likely to leave you feeling good about things.

Download picks: Glow, Bed Of Nails, Bring It On, Bent Out of Shape, Scratch, Jumping Off The Block, Glow

Track listing:

  1. Fair
  2. East End Blues
  3. Glow
  4. You Must Know
  5. Bed Of Nails
  6. Bring It On
  7. Gotta Have It
  8. Beg
  9. Trusted You
  10. Stay Right Here
  11. Scratch
  12. Jumpin’ Off The Block
  13. Bent Out Of Shape

  1. Have to totally agree. This is one of the best album’s I’ve purchased in the long time. This album has to be a hit!

    Henry    Jul 8    #
  2. I was on my way home to the US, stopped in at the Airport Music store (as I usualy do on my lay-over in London) and I found this GEM… This is great new music with the familiar easy to adopt sounds. This has the potential of becoming a huge hit in the US as well.

    francisco    Jul 13    #
  3. I was stoned out of my tiny little brain round my mates, and he has a totally different taste of music to me, he put ‘Scratch’ and ‘Bed Of Nails’ on, and i was literally sitting there in awe at how brilliant this guy is. Potential number 1, anyone?

    Riska    Jul 18    #