Jamie Lidell

Jim

(Warp; 2008)

By Danny Roca | 9 June 2008

I loved Multiply (2005). Alongside Lewis Taylor’s forgotten gem Stoned, Pt. 1 (2004) it suggested the basic Stax/Motown blueprint were still inspirational foundations on which to build and create. Where Taylor weaved in psychedelia and rock, Lidell worked in programming, funk, and beats (such as on the incredible “Newme” and “When I Come Back Around”) to create albums that were classicist but still vibrant and fresh enough to seem relevant. With Jim, not so much. The eclectic production that made Multiply so exciting has been dampened leaving Jim sounding like a fairly regular neo-soul album. Aside from a few nominal swooshes and washes there’s little here that separates these song arrangements from those of Vonda Shepard. As in, without his box of tricks Lidell is more than a little exposed.

OK, Jamie Lidell can sing. Kinda. He has spent a lot of time listening to Stevie Wonder and Al Green and he’s got that phrasing down pat, but he’s not an incredible singer. While instantly impressive his voice actually has very little character. Even when he’s doing his Otis Redding schtick on “All I Wanna Do,” you struggle to get emotionally engaged. In comparison someone as vocally limited as Jack Splash, who can barely get above a strangled falsetto at best, manages more emotional nuance in the melodically flat “When She Smiles She Lights The Sky” than Lidell manages on the whole of the album. In fact, it’s embarrassing when the backing singers come in on “Another Day” and manage to dazzle him off the stage within moments of their first “woo-hoos.”

And, OK, Jamie Lidell has got some alright songs. They’re not really his. “Out Of My System” has got all the pieces in the right places. Rolling gospel piano, check. Hammond stabs, check. Tambourines and handclaps at double time, check. He’s even got a “Try A Little Tenderness” vocal breakdown in there too. Whoops, probably one lift too much. “Figured Me Out” is funky. We know this because it uses the tired Jamiroquai trick of incorporating squelchy Innervisions (1973) synths and staccato vocals. Shame nobody told Lidell that Jamiroquai’s breed of funk is the achingly white, plodding shit the likes of which I thought we had our fill of with Acid Jazz. “All I Wanna Do” is all acoustic guitars and block harmonies, melancholia, vibrato, woeful organs. It’s a thinly disguised version of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” but with a hat on.

Ultimately, this is nothing more than workaday feel good bar music, technically well executed with the peaks and troughs in all the right places. But, it’s just all a little bit meh, which is disappointing. I thought Lidell had carved out a progressive niche in surprising and delighting soul transformation but, like Tom Hanks in Big looking at robots turning into skyscrapers, this time I just don’t get it.

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