Jamie Lidell currently sits in a similar place in the musical spectrum as fellow neo soul/electro funk pioneers such as Erykah Badu. For their more recent output and live shows Lidell and Badu have both taken the template laid down by Seventies legends such as Parliament/Funkadelic and reworked it with a hard, modern electronica edge.
Lidell’s latest self-titled record for Warp records mixes up Prince-style vocal histrionics, authentically Eighties retro tom rolls and synth work with some ace twenty-first century production tricks and slicker than thou studio finish. This meeting of musical worlds is encapsulated by album highlight ‘Big Love’ with its euphoric, neo gospel vocal harmonies and epic chord progression. ‘What A Shame’ is another high point with its rolling, deep bass grooves and explosive percussion breaks.
Lyrically, Jamie Lidell knowingly plays with the clichés of classic soul music. With ‘You Naked’, Lidell is occupying the same lyrical and musical world as Justin Timberlake's ‘Rock Your Body’ and could give the Trousersnake a run for his pop star money, if only JL had the boy band looks of JT…
What separates Lidell from the Timberlakes and Sam Sparros of the world is the indie cred points afforded by his continued relationship with Warp records. Warp built their reputation by launching the careers of pioneering electronica legends such as Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Autechre etc; Lidell represents their nu wave of more indie/pop projects, notably Maximo Park and the most recent Battles album. Jamie Lidell is a perfect middle point of Warp’s current manifesto of keeping one hand in progressive, experimental electronica (the glistening electronic flourishes of opener ‘I’m Selfish’ run throughout the album as do various glitch-y, time stretch effects) and the other in playing pop at its own game.
The Talking Heads influence felt across the album keeps a musical foot firmly in the indie cred camp - the squawking liquid funk and uptight vibrato of ‘You Know My Name’ alone has a great debt to the legacy of David Byrne et al. When he slows the pace with neo soul jam ‘Don’t You Love Me’, Lidell does his best Eighties Stevie Wonder schtick and it’s a welcome break from the hard funk.
Ultimately where Jamie Lidell falls down is its lack of originality or sense of emotional honesty. The lyrics too often veer towards the Mighty Boosh/Flight of The Conchords-esque parody of funk legend Rick James: “now you need something to relieve the tension, say you need it so bad I don't want your medicine, I just wanna break that chain” (from ‘I’m Selfish’) and, with the lyrics and music being such a heavy, arch pastiche it doesn’t feel like there’s any great emotional or spiritual depth to the work.
The influence of Prince's 2004’s return to form Musicology hangs heavy across the record. To me, Jamie Lidell will occupy a similar place in my record collection as Midnight Vultures by that similarly knowing culture vulture Beck; it is a worthy tribute to the greats of funk and soul but lacks the heart and directness of the legends it aspires to. Lidell is a tremendously talented individual and, as a live act, he and his band are a breath-taking spectacle. Maybe on his next record he’ll make a better job of capturing what makes him so unique rather than just homaging the greats and, at least some of the time, keep his tongue out of his cheek.
6Sebastian Reynolds's Score