, March 28th, 2013 08:13
Jamie Lidell is like an electro Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in the genres of funk and soul. What began as a career in blips and blops gradually morphed into something more mainstream and smooth, despite a predilection for time-hopping through the histories of soul and funk. An alliance with Beck on 2010's Compass led to perhaps Lidell's best effort to date, and certainly the best Beck album in recent memory. (Even if the mentor's Midnite Vultures had been a more sincere and better-sung paean to getting down in your underwear, it still would not have compared to Compass' joint penchants for experimentation and getting one's freak on.) Lidell is mostly back on his own for his latest, self-titled effort, save for some production help from Justin Stanley, who also helmed 2008's Jim. And while it doesn't always reach the highs of Compass, it manages to serve wonderfully as a headphones album and an ultra fabricated, more-than-a-throwback treat.
Quite obviously, those who have compared Lidell to a one-man Maroon 5 (and there have been a few) have never opted to give one of his albums a headphones listen. If they had, then they clearly would have understood the intricacy behind the collage of squelches, loops, and layered synths that create the backdrop for Lidell's vocals. It may only be the real gear heads who can discern what model of synth is being used at any particular moment, and it may take a 70s funk fiend to connect any of Jamie Lidell's analogue synth references to whatever Cameo album, but Lidell's talent and resistance to a full-on pop homogenisation are almost always apparent.
Although some 70s and much 80s funk is the key inspiration here, Jamie Lidell is not merely a throwback record. Even songs so glaringly 80s as 'Big Love' and 'Do Yourself A Favour' have enough techno trickery behind them to keep the funk from feeling stale. It also helps that Lidell's way with hooks has improved significantly since Multiply - his first foray into soul histrionics - and Jim. Where things really support that Slaughterhouse-Five analogy from the opening sentence of this review, however, is with lead single 'Why_Ya_Why'. Its Big Easy brass intro, and the vocal treatment employed to make Lidell sound like an 85 year-old New Orleans jazzman, feel a little like a dedication to those who have written Lidell off as releasing the same retro-soul album every couple of years after abandoning techno. The track would be one of Jamie Lidell's slower cuts, were it not for its horn section's head-on collision with some very 21st century static noise. The song eventually careens off into a wreck of programmed beats, but the moment in which the centuries and styles first mesh is a fine testament to Lidell's wizardry.
Given Lidell's past excavations and rejiggings of the more timeless rhythm & blues of the 60s and the less garish funk of the 70s, all the 80s decadence poured into this album can get a little tiresome at times. The constant zipping and zapping of its final five tracks almost cause the album to become bottom heavy, but thankfully the just-right 'So Cold' and the lovely 'Don't You Love Me' keep it from going completely overboard. Still, this is possibly Lidell's most concise effort yet, or at least his best constructed. What aspect of soul music Lidell delves into next is anybody's guess - particularly as he's beginning to run out of decades - but for now it's just a pleasure that he's still as unstuck as ever.