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Another Change In Direction For Jamie Lidell On ‘Compass’

27/05/2010

For those of you who, like me, first became familiar with British soul singer Jamie Lidell via his 2008 album Jim, Compass may come as a bit of a shock to the sytem. Those of you who have been riding with Jamie a little longer, say since 2005’s Multiply, may see Compass as a welcome ‘return to form’. Whichever group you belong to, this album needs to be on your must have list this year.

Many describe Lidell as a bit of a musical chameleon. His breakthrough album Multiply combined traditional soul music with electronic elements and looped vocals, giving rise to what many would term an alternative soul album. His voice drew comparisons to musical legends such as Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder, but the production was slap-bang in the 21st century.

In 2008 Lidell released Jim which was somewhat of a departure from Multiply. Featuring less electronica and more organic soul sounds, the album seemed to be following the retro-soul fad of the time and led to many viewing the album as a step backwards and a ploy to gain more mainstream success. Whatever the reason for the change in sound the album did gain some traction and led to an Independant Music Award and a support slot for Elton John.

2010’s Compass sees Lidell changing things up yet again. This album has more in common with Multiply than Jim, but this time around there is more of an experimental edge. The vocal looping, and electronic production are here from Multiply, but Lidell (& Co.) have added vocal distortions/layering and upped the ‘funk’ giving rise to an album that sounds like the long lost love-child of Stevie Wonder (circa Innerversions), Parliament and Gnarls Barkley. Gone are the polished, radio-ready songs from Jim, instead we have a raw, rough-and-ready sound that, whilst remaining rooted in soul and funk, isn’t scared to venture outside these somewhat limiting genres.

The themes running through Compass are those of love, love lost, love regained … basically the staples of all good soul music. Album opener ‘Completely Exposed’ is a pretty good indicator of what to expect, with Lidell’s gloriously soulful vocals gliding overbeat-boxing and rumbling bass-line. Just when you think the track has settled down Lidell adds yet another element into the mix. Album highlight ‘She Needs Me’ has got to be one of the best slow jams of 2010 thus far, with Lidell taking cues from 90s male RnB, but adding his own unique spin on things.

Completely Exposed

She Needs Me

Enough Is Enough

‘Enough Is Enough’, the most upbeat track on the album, takes us into Stevie Wonder territory with it’s bright and breezy funk, but just as you are getting into the groove the ‘The Ring’ brings things back to more familiar, downbeat territory with it’s squelchy electronic beat and stunted, muted horns. Such a muddle of sounds and a refusal to settle into any sort of rhythm usually spells disaster for an album, especially one that follows an album as polished and ‘conventional as Jim, however for me it is exactly this that makes Compass such a great collection of songs. Yes, if you listen to the tracks one by one then there dosn’t seem to be any sort of flow or cohesion, but after listening several times from start to finish, to put it simply, it works.

The rest of the tracks on compass are equally as haphazard, and equally as fantastic (maybe with the exception of ‘Big Drift’). Sure, if you are looking for another Jim then maybe this isn’t for you, but if you liked Multiply or your ears are open to something a little out the norm, then give it a try.

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