Thursday 17 June 2010

Jamie Lidell - Compass

It's been a while since Prince made the kind of music that got me into Prince as a young teenager. For many years he was a one-man army blending soul, funk and R 'n' B (and plenty more besides) into something wonderful, and when he began to surround himself with an established band he continued to push boundaries and meld styles together with a creative flair most musicians and performers can only dream of. Now that the edge seems to have dulled ever so slightly I have to look elsewhere for my kicks. Now, Jamie Lidell isn't Prince or even that similar to him but there's something of that prodigious talent about the man. When I reviewed his last album, Jim, I was pleased by the focus on his voice which is nothing short of gorgeous. With Beck on board as producer on his latest, things have taken a turn for the tweaked, by which I mean that the voice is often hidden under some treatment or other and the album suffers from over-production on a couple of tracks. However, there is also an amazing energy at work here and several attempts to do something different from the usual soul/funk/R 'n' B fare.

The heavy-handed production veils the opening couple of tracks; Completely Exposed is riven by heavy guitar chords like Bjork at her most bombastic leaving it all sounding a little leaden. Your Sweet Boom sounds exactly like a Beck track with treated vocals and eclectic sounds in the background. The we get She Needs Me, as hopelessly romantic a track as you could hope to find, heavy bass and flutes combine to create a sex-soaked atmosphere Barry White would be proud of, Lidell's vocals finally given some room to soar (sounding exactly like Michael McDonald at one point - compliments don't come any more backhanded than that!). Things get even darker and dirtier on the funky I Wanna Be Your Telephone which comes complete with the kind of silly/sexy lyrics that Prince used to excel in - Breathe into my mouthpiece baby/Press your cheek against me honey /Push my buttons with your tender touch / Whisper to me 'til I can't get enough /I wanna be your telephone. It really does sound like a Prince (and The Revolution) track too with keyboard stabs a la Dr Fink, sultry female backing vocals and something of the maverick genius about it. The sun comes out on Enough's Enough if you want something for a summer barbecue. The filthy, funky keyboard sound that begins The Ring opens out into a piano led soul number that stomps along nicely, punctuated by brass. The pace picks up further with the rocking You Are Waking which is powered along by aggressive drumming and layers of guitar.

I Can Love Again breaks it down, almost like an intermission, with the after-hours It's A Kiss following on similarly. It's a chance to breathe before the epic title track comes along. Acoustic guitars underscore the unhindered, heartfelt vocal (And now I know the only compass that I need/ Is the one that leads back to you) and the instrumentation goes off for a workout in the middle (the album is filled with cameos and support from eclectic soundsmiths like Feist, Gonzales, Wilco's Pat Sansone, Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor) before returning back to base. Lovely stuff. We're back in darker territory for Gypsy Blood and the dramatic Coma Chameleon before things go very wafty on Big Drift. With a list of instrumentation that goes from the eclectic (Mexican Bass, Celesta, Mellotron) to the downright mystic (Percussion Explorations, The Mysterious Wheel, The Mystic Brush!) and backing vocals from all the famous collaborators I've mentioned it is a grand track where Lidell himself pushes his vocal into something harder (Chris Cornell has been mentioned). The album is finished off with You See My Light where tremulous vocals are accompanied by piano and horns, a quiet goodbye that only illustrates the eclectic nature of the album as a whole. It's that variety that will put off as many listeners as it attracts, consistency obviously wasn't high on the list this time around, but there's no doubting the creativity and talent behind this record and the impish man at the centre of it remains one of the more exciting singer-musicians out there today.


Telly Ellie 17 June 2010 at 16:17  

I had to get rid of 'She Needs Me' almost immediately because it was nauseating but the rest of the album is like Prince and Beck at their best, I agree. Lovely stuff.

John Self 18 June 2010 at 08:23  

How does it compare to Jim, Will? I have that album, but had completely forgotten about it until I saw this review. I will probably buy Compass now anyway, but just wondered if it had more longevity than his last. (Then again, I might put on Jim later today and be amazed by how much I love it...)

William Rycroft 18 June 2010 at 09:57  

Mmmmm. Longevity. Jim has sat on the shelf (along with many others) but a quick listen to compare with this new one reminded me that it's a far simpler and more personal album. Compass is much more diverse and performed and how much you like it may depend on how much you like Prince or Beck. It's pretty eclectic so I reckon most people are going to have tracks they love and tracks they really don't.

John Self 18 June 2010 at 16:33  

Well I bought it today and listened to the first half on the way back to the office. I actually really liked the first couple of tracks - maybe I just enjoy heavy-handed production (except when it's by Animal Collective...)!

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