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Jamie Lidell - Jim

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Artist: Jamie Lidell

Album: Jim

Label: Warp

Review date: Apr. 24, 2008

Jamie Lidell’s first solo album ‘proper,’ Multiply (most people ignore his electronica debut Muddlin’ Gear) felt like the ultimate in guilty pleasures the first time you heard it: ridiculously joyous soul and R&B re-takes that borrowed enough Surrealism from Super_Collider (his duo with Cristian Vogel) to stop things from devolving to a thankless game of ‘spot the reference.’ Subsequent listens revealed an anxious, unsettled heart buried deep beneath the flesh, and songs like “The City” or “When I Come Back Around,” worried away at the stress-head man-machine interface of Sly circa Riot, or Prince circa Sign O’ the Times – though they’re not comparable on qualitative terms, mind you: what could be?

But let’s cut to the chase: Jim is a huge disappointment. With the exception of the giddy rush of “Hurricane,” all of Multiply’s uncertainty and tetchy energy is missing, replaced with too-friendly soul sides that flick all the right switches, draw on all the right period pieces, but lack any real fire. Indeed, it’s surprising how workmanlike it sometimes feels, how much box-ticking is going on. It’s so nice, so cleanly done, shined to an uncommon blush. And it’s so sugary at times, it tastes like the sickly-sweet richness of white chocolate or cheap toffee. There’s none of the emotional upheaval or loss, the bitterness behind the sweetness, that define great soul records.

I can get behind “Another Day” as wide-eyed opening salvo, although its careful design – opening handclaps, creamy background female vocals, walking piano, touches of gospel progressions, Bacharach-esque breakdown – militates against any wildness or surprise. “Green Light”’s clunking bossa drum machine pattern recalls Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information – hardly a bad thing, but Shuggie, of course, got there first. But even here, these stylistic pleasantries reveal a hollow core.

It’s a shame, because Lidell’s such a smart, clued-in character: you could easily imagine him creating a fantastic eschatological address, some kind of paranoiac’s soul-blues masterpiece. And his voice is still compelling, though the bland musical accompaniment has you wondering how much of his ‘grain of the voice’ is simply artful performance masquerading as ‘soul.’

So, I don’t know if something’s changed in me, or if there’s something in the air at the moment, but where Multiply was pure pleasure, Jim is perfunctory, a Xeroxed indulgence. It feels like a textbook example, a post-modern privileging of surface over depth, and any ‘play’ going on in this record comes across as too arch. I’m not trying to imply that intelligence and music can’t walk hand in hand; some of the best music of recent times (Scritti Politti, The Red Krayola) is very aware of what it’s doing and what genres it’s playing with. But this referentiality is in service to research and commentary, working toward a better understanding of how things work. With Jim, by contrast, the slickness isn’t commentary on production values; it’s just slick…

Jim is pleasant, polite, listenable, smooth (it’s like Yacht Rock for the nu-soul set), undemanding…and a bit of a bore. I’ve listened to the record countless times, looking for the bitter in the sweet, the hidden depths, waiting for Jim to open itself up, offer me more than surfaces, but…nope. Nothing. One wouldn’t want to begrudge Lidell the pleasure of making music; he just might want to apply the Jamiroquai filter more rigorously in the future.

By Jon Dale

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