Music Reviews

Jamie Lidell Compass

(Warp Records) Rating - 7/10

It’s not something he’s often credited for but since he started singing on his stuff Jamie Lidell has proved that he knows how to open an album. Multiply kicks off with the quick punch of You Got Me Up then moves onto two of Lidell’s most memorable tracks, namely Multiply and When I Come Back Around. Jim kept up the trend, commencing with the irresistibly sweet Another Day before turning up the tempo with Wait For Me and Out Of My System. Even so, Compass’s triple-threat opening sequence ranks amongst his finest.

Completely Exposed, the album’s first track, manages to be bombastic without relying on much except sporadic instrumentation on top of a strong beat and Lidell’s effected vocals. It sounds assured and its a confident contribution to the modern day soul canon. The same goes for Your Sweet Boom, which plays like a Prince track obfuscated by intentionally muddy production ethics. Rounding off the album’s opening sequence is She Needs Me - another nod in the direction of Prince, but a nod that neo-soul aficionados might lovingly recognise. For sure, with slightly different production the song could easily have found its way onto 90s R&B radio.

Compass uncovers other places where Lidell shines and, surprisingly, it's using sounds and textures not previously associated with his work. The title track of the album changes shape throughout the song - from acoustic picking to rich orchestral flourishes to a heavy Latin beat - but always retains a focus on Lidell’s vocal, a feature that comes into prominence as the album progresses. Indeed, Lidell’s vocals early on are soaked in reverb or compressed to an almost unrecognisable degree, at times giving Lidell the aura of an academic interested in modernising soul and funk, rather than an artist emotionally engaged in it. That is, however, until the album’s closer. You See My Light is a take as honest and open as anything in Lidell’s catalogue and is worthy of the attention of listeners who have no interest in anything he’s done before.

Initially at 14 tracks the album feels overlong, though no doubt this is in part to the change in quality between certain tracks. Undoubtedly Compass has its missteps, or to be more accurate, its lulls, where the inspiration seems lacking or the ideas relatively thin compared to elsewhere. This is most likely due to the tight writing and recording schedule – Lidell took only one month to take the album from nothing to its fully conceived form.

Knowing that Jamie Lidell wrote and recorded Compass within a month explains a lot. It explains why it is wildly exhilarating – there’s a sense of relentless creative energy bursting throughout Compass. It explains the sense of schizophrenia in the record – with little time to worry about cohesion or thematic continuity, Lidell shifts between his broad palette of (mostly) black American influence. He takes on sexualised, Prince-aping funk as readily as smooth neo-soul or Latin flavoured acoustic flourishes. It also explains the inconsistency of the album – though Lidell’s restless inspiration is refreshing, it inevitably leads to a few dull moments.

By changing his approach and experimenting with fresh styles, Lidell ably demonstrates his talent for writing and performing in a difficult genre (particularly for a white British man). Certainly, his performance is impeccable, and has been since he first surprised listeners on his second album (Multiply). With his latest offering, Lidell has matured from the obvious party-bangers found on Multiply, as well as from the 60s soul pastiche he lovingly delivered on Jim. But though he offers some of his most impressive and experimental numbers to date, due to Compass’s continual up-and-down nature it’s unlikely to make the impression of either of his two previous albums.