BY JORDAN MAINZER
You might not be able to teach an old dog a new trick, but you can most certainly teach an old genre how to stay current and cool. British singer Jamie Lidell has been making electronica-infused experimental funk better than anyone since his breakout album, 2005’s brilliant Multiply. From the throwback of the irrefutably badass title track to the squelchy, danceable funk of “When I Come Back Around”, Multiply and Warp Records essentially took Daft Punk’s “Short Circuit” and added a soul singer. And after the understated Jim and Compass, Lidell is back in 2013 with a self-titled effort that combines today’s maximalist electronic tendencies with his trademark blue-eyed soul. Overall, much of the album sounds like an extremely talented and tasteful musician’s ironic exploration into past eras of trash-pop.
By far the best track on Jamie Lidellis the lead single “What a Shame”, a Rustie-inspired blast of soulful, colorful energy to match the album’s awesome cover art. To say the least, the track got people excited for Lidell’s return so much that they stopped constantly describing his music as “pastiche” (they also no longer had a right to call him the white D’Angelo). Meanwhile, Twitter handle-titled “why_ya_why” effectively combines Lidell’s distorted voice with an even weirder electro-jazz freakout beat, recalling the combination of the modulated low voices and get-down beat of Multiply’s bump-n-grind-worthy “A Little Bit More”.
Nonetheless, Jamie Lidell is stylistically inconsistent. Coupled with forward-thinking tracks like “What a Shame” and “why_ya_why” are retro tracks that are infinitely better than most dance music, but disappointing in comparison to the awesomely futuristic standards Lidell has set for himself. Whereas on Multiply Lidell took influence from the Sixties, Jamie Lidell practically steals from the eighties: the songs only sound more pristine as a result of modern technology. For instance, while the cowbell and synth-laden “You Naked” is catchy, the track also sounds like an Eighties B-side. And disco-ish “You Know My Name” is undeniably danceable, but doesn’t tackle the seemingly impossible feat of naturally adding a soulful voice to dense electronic beats as the album’s aforementioned two best tracks (and much of Multiply) do.
Lidell has never been a great lyricist, and that trend continues on Jamie Lidell. At his best, Lidell avoids the pastiche label by obscuring his lyrics with original instrumentation, but on songs like cliché, self-aggrandizing “I’m Selfish,” he’s not making a statement with his lyrics or his music beyond “look what sounds I can combine.” As the title “I’m Selfish” and the eponymous album title imply, some songs on the album are empty beyond Lidell’s musically masturbatory impulses.
Nevertheless, Jamie Lidell is a thoroughly satisfying listen. While the album might not appear on a plethora of year-end lists, it’s certainly got the swagger to crossover onto the iTunes charts. If “Suit & Tie” isn’t your thing, put on some 3-D glasses, turn off your brain, and dance to Jamie Lidell. The new My Bloody Valentine can always wait until tomorrow.
Jordan Mainzer is a staff writer at FP and the editor of art, architecture, and design blog DRA. He recently wrote a review of Team Starkid’s Second City show Airport for Birds. A recent graduate of Brown University, he now lives in Chicago.