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Jamie Lidell Compass Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

An album that proves just how inventive Lidell can be.

Wendy Roby 2010

Jamie Lidell’s third album for Warp is not something you can listen to sitting down. It’s a mutating and thoroughly amiable record that uses funk and soul merely as a jumping-off point, before fidgeting off elsewhere. So let’s dismiss those “blue-eyed soul boy” clichés to the back of the lazy drawer.

Compass was written in a month and recorded between Beck’s Hudson Studios in LA and Feist's ranch, as well as bases in New York and Canada. Lidell’s co-conspirators here also include Gonzales, Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear and Pat Sansone of Wilco. And maybe that’s why it feels like quite a skip from 2008’s Jim, and such a giant leap from his Warp debut, 2005’s Multiply. This time around, it seems Lidell is determined to take things further, by dirtying an (already messy) funk blueprint.

Album openers Completely Exposed – with its rumbling bass and propulsive beat-boxing – and Your Sweet Boom are characteristic of this messiness, with heavy distortion applied to Lidell’s vocals. Whereas it seems churlish to the point of humourless not see the cheek in She Needs Me. “I was hoping she’d let me in / For more than a cup of tea,” sings Jamie on this slow-mo’ lady-seducer. Meanwhile, The Ring has wonky keyboards that naturally remind you of Stevie Wonder circa Innervisions. But to focus on this sort of retro comparison would be to ignore all the brilliantly crazy stuff that’s also going on. Jamie Lidell is not Jamiroquai.

It’s a Kiss is squelchy, and you could argue lyrics like “When you’re speaking, I only see your lips” as sounding the tiniest bit “Shut up woman, and kiss me”. But it’s fun. And though Compass initially seems like the least interesting song on the album, that’s the beauty of the surprises in store. Easing into Morricone-style brass before morphing into a truly commendable, ramshackle mid-section, the sheer range of drum beats on the title track are extraordinary. It sounds as if it’s been captured in a huge hall with a school orchestra at one end and street drummers at the other, battling it out. Big Drift recalls Protection-era Massive Attack, with its dense, half-asleep atmospherics and – of all things – wind chimes.

The low-slung bass of Gypsy Blood sees Lidell use stadium riffs of the sort people who call their guitars “axes” might use. Coma Chameleon is also a highlight, with deliberately discordant, speaker-blowing brass. And it’s at this point you find yourself wishing to appropriate a phrase used to describe modern jazz, because it really does sound like “a fire in a zoo”. But in a good way.

At the end of Compass comes You See My Light, which – taken as closing hymn – nearly makes sense. But it’s a shame it sounds so smooth, when the rest of the album proves just how inventive Lidell can be.

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