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Omar Sing (If You Want It) Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Could push Omar into the sophisticated pop territory he briefly visited 20 years ago.

Lloyd Bradley 2011

For years Omar has been a beacon of Brit funk, perpetuating musical values in a world where beats and bare flesh increasingly define black music. Yet for all the clubland integrity, he’s remained frustratingly short on mainstream recognition.

In the past this was due to weak singles from excellent albums, but with Sing (If You Want It) it was sheer bad luck. The set totally nailed the notion of commercial and credible viability within the same songs, and on first release in 2006 showed strong initial sales. But then his record company collapsed, leaving Omar in a sudden limbo. This rerelease is a mark of the artist’s unique approach, as it still stands up with the addition of just two new tracks.

The strength of the album is the apparent ease with which the music is constructed, layering of keyboards, horns, strings and percussion so effortless it can’t help but seduce the listener. Numbers like Be a Man, Ghana Emotion and Get It Together are such lazy, brass-drenched swingers they can introduce some fairly tricky musical flourishes without anybody missing a beat. The latter is Omar at his best: what starts off as cool, samba-ish acoustic guitar and percussion swells slowly into an orchestration that builds its melodies so subtly you never lose track of the beat, yet suddenly you’re in the middle of an epic.

Tunes like Kiss It Right and Stylin’ (featuring sublime vocals from Angie Stone) are good old fashioned funk numbers – taut, bass-driven, everything working rhythmically and they’re more defined by what’s not there than what is. Neither neglects a melody you can follow. Heck, even Dancing manages to produce an Earth, Wind & Fire-ish harmonised groove out of a pumping dancehall reggae jam. Only the tracks that strip the rhythms back too far – Gimme Sum, I Want It and the Bob Sinclar remix of It’s So – don’t really work, as they could pretty much be the work of anybody.

While this will do more than satisfy Omar’s existing fanbase, what makes the difference are songs like the title-track, Feeling You (featuring a strangely underused Stevie Wonder) and Lay It Down: each is mainstream-friendly without sacrificing its jazz/funk and nu-soul/hip hop roots. They could be the ones that finally push Omar into the sophisticated pop territory he briefly visited with There’s Nothing Like This 20 years ago.

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