Jamie Lidell - Jamie Lidell (2013)

Jamie Lidell
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Still hiding between the shadows of obscurity and indie sensationalism, blue-eyed soul wonder Jamie Lidell seems to be one enigmatic creature. After drifting away from being a behind-the-scenes techno producer, he used neo-soul moxie and ballsy imagination to highlight his first two solo records.  His third album, Jim, may have gotten him the most attention with the indie soul collective since it harbored the sound of retro Motown, sounding like a distinct cousin to Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It. It also allowed him to put away the future-like synths and gave him access to gospel-styled numbers that no other Englishman before him has ever dreamt of attacking.

Still hiding between the shadows of obscurity and indie sensationalism, blue-eyed soul wonder Jamie Lidell seems to be one enigmatic creature. After drifting away from being a behind-the-scenes techno producer, he used neo-soul moxie and ballsy imagination to highlight his first two solo records.  His third album, Jim, may have gotten him the most attention with the indie soul collective since it harbored the sound of retro Motown, sounding like a distinct cousin to Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It. It also allowed him to put away the future-like synths and gave him access to gospel-styled numbers that no other Englishman before him has ever dreamt of attacking.

But, 2010’s Compass went in a totally different direction, alienating his previous audience by playing too loosely with whirly sound wave experiments and warped melodies. Now a married man, Lidell has since left his London abode, settled on American soil and now calls Nashville home. The move sounds risky, even downright scary. That's like dropping Prince in a Dollywood cabin. Musically, Lidell is a loose cannon when compared with Nashville's prominent rock star inhabitants (except for cool indie rockers, Jack White and the Black Keys, who both moved there and turned into critical successes). Maybe, just maybe, the simplicity and easy living in a Southern environment might be the hand that rocks the cradle, or could very well be the suitable incubator for Lidell’s rebellious brand of soul.

All things are revealed on his first self-titled album. It's his first album recorded at his newly erected music studio, probably in a 50-foot radius from his bedroom, so naming it Jamie Lidell makes sense when you read between the lines. If this disc is what Lidell hopes the eyewitnesses to describe him as being first and foremost, he's going the right route. At best, Lidell is a maverick saturated in Prince funkology with a bit more soul than Justin Timberlake. But, he isn't too comfy singing Otis Redding gospels or Robin Thicke love songs, even though he can. He proves just that on the ‘80s synthy-themed Jamie Lidell, which quickly eats away at that blue-eyed soul label he's been unfairly bestowed. On this round, Lidell also ignores the totality of his Nashville surroundings while drowning in a sea of '80s galactic funk that sits somewhere in between Talking Heads and The System.

The first set of songs show off radio-friendly electronica, with "I'm Selfish," "Do Yourself a Faver" and the Linn-drummed "Big Love" leading the way. "What a Shame" sounds like hip-hop done in the year of 2099. Underneath all the Terminator subwoofer bass and mile-long laser blasts is a tune that Justin Timberlake would've envisioned for his comeback album. Lidell's first choice of single, "You Naked," is good to the ear, particularly on the ebullient chorus, but is clearly a teaser considering all that comes before it. Those judging the album off of the single will clearly be misguided by Lidell’s new universe.

There’s hardly anything in Lidell’s way that slows the robotic funk down, except for the brief, Outkast like intro on "So Cold." The rhythms rapidly pick up, as Lidell sings of a crumbling relationship: "You just to be so cool, but now you're so cold." On Don't You Love Me,” the tempo drips slowly as dreamlike synths and jazzy piano riffs, while modestly dipping into Stevie mannerisms.

It's safe to assert for critical reference just how some of the melodies tend to get a bit disorganized on the second half. This is usually Lidell's playground, where he dips further into self-indulgence. But on his third album, he's careful in not losing his audience thanks to the scholastic grooves set in place. Even on the modest album filler of “Blaming Something,” Lidell pulls off a good example of crossover funk. When he finally breaks out with the album finisher, "In Your Mind," the record feels close to perfect. It’s almost impossible to shake off a workout of this caliber when it conjures the heartbeat of the New Jack swing movement using MJ playfulness.

At the end of the record, the ear feels like it's been forced through a maze of Sign O' the Times outtakes. Ironically, it’s a contemporary funk album and yet comes awfully close to looking like Lidell has committed the ultimate act of treason by going the Maroon 5 route. Regardless of how much exposure he’ll get out of this record, he’s done a good job in mending the broken hearts that somehow survived the awkward parts of Compass. This one feels natural and best suits him. Enthusiastically recommended.

By J. Matthew Cobb

 
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