Now on to his fifth solo album, Jamie Lidell’s releases are beginning to follow a certain pattern. His debut Muddlin’ Gear emphasised his electronic preoccupations, sounding frequently demented and manically inventive. Multiply came as a surprise to those not following Lidell’s performance work closely, as he veered into a world of manipulated electronic funk and soul. It was an appealing and exciting hybrid, not least because of Lidell’s vocal only live shows accompanying it.
Its successor Jim felt rather safe and tepid by comparison – a well executed but ultimately aimless set of faithful soul stylings. Compass proved infinitely better, and somewhat unexpected, finding Lidell branching out across a wider range of contexts and bringing a greater personal touch to proceedings. It made for a disorientating and unpredictable listen, but it felt imaginative and honest.
Artists usually release eponymously titled albums mid-career when they feel they are getting back to basics, or re-asserting the fundamentals of their approach. As such, Jamie Lidell feels like another retrenchment. It is dominated by Prince-inspired soul and funk jams, with varying degrees of success. To use Prince as a reference point is crushingly obvious of course, but it really is unavoidable. On the opening I’m Selfish, the influence is even there in the inflections of the melody and in Lidell’s vocal phrasing.
There are, thankfully, broader influences from the golden age of eighties soul and dance too. It really feels as if Lidell has immersed himself in this music. The robotic voices and steady four to the floor disco beat of Do Yourself A Favour recall D Train, Zapp or perhaps The Gap Band. There are even hints at the sounds of more obscure artists such as The Conway Brothers, especially on You Know My Name.
It all works because Lidell sounds so confident and authoritative. It avoids any sense of pastiche because there is no ironic detachment or smug superiority. Lidell clearly loves this music. Much of the album is wildly infectious, with some big choruses and highly entertaining arrangements. It would be harder to find more unashamedly catchy hooks than the choruses of Big Love or You Naked. Then there are the shameless, irresistible synth basslines that seem to underpin everything. If this is the album that finally sees Lidell crossover to a wider audience (which is where Compass sadly seemed to fail), it will not be hard to see why.
A couple of stranger, nervous moments keep things interesting. What A Shame is more disruptive, noisy and disturbing, with Lidell’s voice heavily distorted. The blend of classic swing shuffle and R&B slow jam on why_ya_why also feels unusual, individual and effective, the music of the past warped through the prism of a particularly open and knowledgeable mind.
As enjoyable as it all is though, it’s hard to escape the lingering feeling that Lidell is best when balancing his desire to mine the rich seam of electronic music’s past with a more innovative perspective. Multiply and Compass are the best of his vocal albums because they seem to be looking back and moving forwards simultaneously. The rest of the music here is an engaged and expert recreation, but it feels much more like business as usual for Lidell.