Label: Warp RecordsRating: 6.5
Jamie Lidell’s eponymously titled seventh studio album is something of a clean break for the singer. Coming after three years of relative silence, the album finds the Warp signed artist newly married and living in Nashville, Tennessee with a re-built studio. If there was ever a sign that the Cambridge born Lidell was looking to move on from the ‘British soul singer’ tag that has accompanied his career, this might be it.
Yet, listening to Jamie Lidell it’s striking how little of a divergence from his established sound the record is. Funky through-lines, soulful choruses that are sad yet optimistic, quirky IDM flourishes and a pop approach to composition are still the order of the day – albeit with the American-ness turned up to the max. And it’s the latter quality which completely colours the album. The move to Nashville, with its rich musical history, has clearly had a huge influence on Lidell.
And this is the album’s biggest flaw. Rather than drawing on the musicology of the past, for the most Lidell’s emulating it. An over-reliance on nostalgic tropes has often been an unfair criticism levelled at Lidell, but never has been it been so pertinent as here. From the falsetto chorus in tracks such as Big Love and What A Shame, to the endlessly recycled mixture of funk-slapped basslines and exuberantly effect-treated guitar solos, the album sounds more like a conceptual tribute to Prince and p-funk than an innovative funk and soul LP from 2013.
In fact, if this was a concept the limited sonic range would be more forgivable. Yet, it’s not a complete conceptual regression into 1980s production techniques, because amidst the nostalgic funk and R&B pop arrangements are contemporary sounding beds of electronica. And for someone who spent years being able to produce off-kilter IDM and soul music, here there are as many dance-music misses as there are hits. Take for instance, the inclusion of a wobbly bassline on You Naked. It sounds like an arbitrary reference to a sound that is popular, without any thought as to how fitting it might be to the track (it isn’t). Likewise, the electronic treatments and grumbling bassline on What A Shame . As often as not, the electronic accompaniment sound like cheap tricks to beef up the tracks, or prove that despite moving to the deep south he’s still into dance-music.
It’s not a complete wash out though. There are glimpses of Lidell the innovator and thinking-man’s pop star. The subtle beds of electronica on the relatively stripped back Blaming Something are great, and one of the album’s most naked moments. On the other end of the scale, Why_Oh_Why is a masterpiece of exuberance with keys, blues vocal samples, saxophone solos, bassline fluctuations and shifting time signatures making for a track that proves the grandiose can also be both downright entertaining and rather clever. Later, the piano tinkling and mumbling heartbroken warbles of Don’t You Love Me? make for a fitting penultimate number.
Certainly, the better moments of the album redeem it somewhat, and prove pleasing reminders of the charisma and charm with which Lidell has cultivated his cult following. However whilst Jamie Lidell is, electronic production mistakes notwithstanding, no huge failure, the album is simply way too steeped in the past. Listening to this record you’ll be reminded of your favourite Prince or George Clinton. And what’s more, you’ll start to wonder why you aren’t listening to them instead of this post-millennium emulation of the real deal.