Release Date: February 19, 2013
He looks like Adam Levine’s older brother, and for the past eight years, Jamie Lidell has sounded a lot like Adam Levine’s older brother. Manning the dad-rock frontlines of R&B’s umpteenth android invasion, the English aggressive-dance-music aficionado (via his work with turn-of-the-century duo Super_Collider) gone digitally inclined soul singer accomplished that transformation via three successively less interesting Warp Records releases: 2005’s great Multiply, on which he cracked open his laptop-bashing cocoon to reveal a gawky Otis Redding homunculus; solid 2008 follow-up Jim, which tried to elbow Raphael Saadiq out of the Instagram-soul Starbucks register rack; and 2010’s overstuffed Compass, which frustratingly split the difference between the first two.
By all pre-release hints, this fourth album looked to continue the downward trajectory. Jamie Lidell is his first solo production, lacking the able assistance of Mocky and Gonzales (who helped turn Multiply and Jim into Feist-quality soul pop), or the cadre of pros (Beck, two members of Grizzly Bear, Feist herself) who tried to give shape to the messy Compass. Lidell recorded this one in his new Nashville (Nashville!) home studio, titled the opening track “I’m Selfish,” and okayed the release of a second single, “why_ya_why,” in which he seems to imitate the Ohio Players’ late Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner on an Idlewild binge. Fans had every right to fear the worst.
Miraculously, this is instead the man’s best since Multiply, and his first since Jim to recreate a specific sound in his own image. Ever listen to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” or “Miss You Much” on good headphones? Same deal, but bigger. Jamie Lidell is nominally R&B, but a metallic, jittery sort, full of sharp edges where drums thwack and bass lines rumble like underground explosions. Listen to the first few seconds of “Big Love”; sound familiar? It’s the sound of the purposefully chipper — nay industrial — funk-pop that boomed forth from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ late-’80s hit factory. First single “What a Shame” is, perhaps not coincidentally, the nastiest song he’s ever issued, all Cold War-era jackhammer drumming and air-raid squelches, and on “Do Yourself a Faver” and “Blaming Something,” he dials directly into the atomic electro-funk mastered by Mr. Clinton at the dawn of the Reagan years.
Though the Minneapolis Sound is new territory for Lidell, he capably imports the dweeby, self-doubting, cyborg-Lothario persona that made Multiply a hit, now with enough confidence that a song like “You Naked” hits a bullseye that earlier incarnations would’ve missed. Is Jamie Lidell emblematic of the new Jamie Lidell? Time will tell. For now, we should merely be thankful that his selfish Music City isolation means Stax has given way to New Jack.