Jamie Lidell Jamie LidellCompass
A few winters have come and gone since he came on the scene, but there is still nobody who fornicates with soul like Jamie Lidell. Nobody attacks with the imagination that he does, nobody looks for more acrobatic positions. There’s no missionary here who could shame him: it’s enough to hear how the stallion moans, how his electronic music squirms with pleasure, and how the walls sweat, to understand how perverse, peculiar, and sexy his proposal is. Two years have passed since his acclaimed “Jim,” and you get the feeling that without leaving the path he started to take in “Multiply,” Lidell has known to reassess his discourse at each new step, gleaning new perspectives from which to see his extravagant mixture of funk, R&B, soul, pop and latest-generation electronic music.
“Compass” is an album that tastes like blood, tears, and latex - an electrical shock of furious funktronic to your nipples that makes you bite your lip until you draw blood. You can see a malicious desire to get down and dirty in Lidell’s latest work, to make the sound of bedsprings squeaking, to organise a chaos that will get you drunk. The surest proof of this is the corrosive “Completely Exposed” that has rough beat-boxing (the bastard sure gets a lot of mileage out of the sounds that he makes with his mouth), basses about to explode, a nervous box of rhythms, and an overpowering voice that sounds as if Al Green, Prince, and Terence Trent d’Arby had met in a Turkish bath. He continues with “Your Sweet Boom,” made in the same Martian forge, but with pinches of gospel, a bass with traces of the new L.A. beat, and a tone of voice that sounds like a moan of ejaculation. He’s got a lot of nerve, and no fear of pop: in “Enough Is Enough” he rides at a trot over the purest Jackson 5 party, but with the voice of Stevie Wonder, and in “Coma Chamaleon” he sets up a sort of triangle between Genesis, Depeche Mode, and Little Richard that will knock you out.
But we also have Lidell the black ballad singer, reincarnating himself in the whispers of Luther Vandross in the nocturnal “She Needs Me,” pleasing himself on a piano in a bar and running the tip of his tongue over the curves of a bass that is pure alkaloid funk. And he leaves you unable to react when he gets up to the pulpit, gives his orders to the organist, and regales you with a final minute of gospel-soul that reconciles you with humanity in “I Can Love Again.” Or when he gets depressed in “Big Drift” and chisels out a futurist do-woop cut with an industrial base and laments in the purest Chris Cornell style.
With all of these offerings, the gods of soul will have found the sacrifice to be plenty generous, but Lidell wants to make his mark on the charts, he wants to grow more and more. That’s why he leaves us an electro-punk-funk diamond in the rough, with a tremendous crack of the whip in “You Are Waking,” a spiritual a cappella that makes your hair stand up on end in “You See My Light.” The most exciting cut of the whole album is “Compass,” where he bows to Ennio Morricone, and blows up an epic soundtrack that could belong to “The Man with No Name Trilogy” that could get anybody dancing enough to mess up their hair. Crying. Applauding.
Readers will have noticed that I deliberately haven’t commented on the plethora of collaborators who participated in the show. Beck, Feist, Gonzales, Chris Taylor ( Grizzly Bear) and Pat Sansone (Wilco) leave their mark, but making too much of them would be like giving importance to the collision of six minor asteroids in the immensity of a universe in perpetual expansion. What is important here is Lidell, his versatile throat, and his ability to press buttons and turn the wheels of analogue machines, and with that process, to create soul music for this century. What matters here is the most blinding confirmation of a talent that devours whatever comes into his gravitational field, like a famished titan. His sampler is golden. It is too easy to fall into his clutches, too obvious to say that we are bowing down to one of the great, great albums of 2010.