Jamie Lidell

Multiply

(Warp; 2005)

By Chet Betz | 7 November 2007

Five years ago Brit producer Jamie Lidell dropped an LP on Warp that befitted the label, a work recalling Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, but the Warp of 2005 likes to get Squarepusher on the minds of its disciples, so they release something by a Futureheads brah-band like Maximo Park (Forefront Records will catch up in three years and hit youth group kids with the very first CCM group influenced by Gang of Four). When Lidell raised the idea of releasing a straight-up soul album, the big-shoulders must have tittered their asses off at the thought of Ernst, thoroughly Scandinavian and forever-sweatered Warp devotee, attempting to comprehend terms like "straight-up" and "soul." Poor Ernst.

But back to our hero: Jamie incarnates himself as a '70s mic icon in the new millenium, the proto-Junior Boys that gestated on portions of his Super_Collider collab with Cristian Vogel now born and grown and aged into a back-to-the-future doppelganger of its R&B progenitors. Multiply is not exactly straight-up, though. Lidell's knob-twiddling and synth bap embellishes these tracks, the very warm, organic, American genre of soul energized by the stroking of its polar opposite, the very cold, silicone, European genre of electronica.

Hott lead single "When I Come Back Around" scorches like Chad Hamilton producing the Ohio Players with Herbie Hancock synthesizer solos and drum programming that reaches Prefuse 73 levels of slick insanity, and, yeah, it's worth the shame of spelling "hot" with two t's. Comprised halfly of a vocal loop, the terrifically minimal "Little Bit More" could be mistaken for Beta Band circa 1998, but the bum-shaking "You and Your Folks" nature of the drums and Lidell's vox give it away as something more funkadelic. On "Newme" Jamie tape manipulates an array of horns and guitar, bass synth and bell key, scatting it around a percussive throughline that culminates in a layered "On the Corner" ruckus. It's followed by "The City," the industrial swing and low-clamor guitar noises of which sound like Reznor & Enon doing a bare demo cover of a lost blues rocker; there's a damned ragged quality to the way Jamie belts out, "The city it don't like you... won't stop / 'til it got you on your knees / give you a stack of beggar memories."

Whitey Lidell's voice impressively chameleons; sure, it hovers about the obvious touchstones, Gaye and Redding and Cooke, but not for any extended period of time. On a "Little Bit More" he employs couplets of Princey falsetto, some stylings of "Everybody Here Wants You" Jeff Buckley on "What's the Use," Temptations harmonizing on the finger-snapping "Music Will Not Last," Andre 3000 staccato on "Newme," and a James Brown yelp or two. Lidell's the real, more talented version of Jack Black's character from High Fidelity, and he peppers his fairly traditional songwriting with lines like "spiraling self-loathing styles / hanging out / with audiophiles" and "four of these fingers set to see / a clear ground division / our division / knows / knows no lines."

Listeners might pine for the blatant high-tech hi-jinks to flavor some of these tracks more, but Lidell compensates in various ways: he restrains the accompaniment of closer "Game for Fools" (thankfully, the title's the only thing that sounds like "Chain of Fools") to contrabass, drum and brush; he brings out all kinds of little perfect programming flourishes and the album's finest vocal hook ("I'm a question mark / a walking, talking question mark") for the relatively standard "What's the Use?"; and the drums of opener "You Got Me Up" morph over ten times in less than two minutes, leaving "Multiply" and "What Is It This Time?" to fill the album's two-song normal-yet-good quota.

Outside the charismatic skill of Lidell's shapeshifting vocals and his forward-looking arrangements, the actual songs of Multiply aren't of as indelible an essence as the classics that they imitate. The record has no "Family Affair," no "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," no "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." It does have ten songs that are Motown caliber, and it has them with uber-modern production technique creating vibe and kinetics. Lidell packages his ambition into one tight forty minute record of neo-soul that's finally, truly neo.

In 1971 Sly and the Family Stone released There's a Riot Goin' On, one of those "best album ever" dealies and one that innovated by its moody breeding of drum machines and synthetics with its bright funk. Multiply doesn't have the same masterpiece-making depression at its core, but, 25 years later, it does seem the stylistic successor to Riot, the silver anniversary number given because Multiply doesn't roll like 2005, it rolls like 2006. They who pop this in their car decks become dislocated in time, cutting in and out between sweaty vinyl and cool leather seats, afros and corn rows, wife-beaters and metrosexual civvies on their chests. Switch back to Top 40 radio, and they'll be hearing either Al Green or Joss Stone: Screwed and Chopped. Melding past and present is the only possible way to time travel; Lidell's found the means of getting his hands on the future.