One of the things I love most about Warp Records is that, a lot of the time, you can tell, when you listen to one of their bands, that they are on that label. This is by no means a bad thing; they’ve come to represent a certain style of music, made for somewhat homely people dancing in basements with similarly homely people, who care about having fun as much as they care about the music itself. Be it the propulsive math rock of Battles, or the sweater-vest aesthletes in Grizzly Bear, Warp Records has always bred a very specific style and ethos. This is something I have always been grateful for.
I am likely the only one who really got into Jamie Lidell with Jim, his out-of-nowhere soul record that came out in 2008. From the first time I listened to the lead single, “Little Bit of Feel Good,” I was transfixed by his style and his swagger, to the point that I couldn’t move past the record. Sure, I listened to Compass when it was released, but it was hard to click with the aesthetic, after falling for Warp Records’ very own in-house crooner. Jamie Lidell became a musician who made an album I enjoyed so much, I barely wanted to see what else they had in store for me (this is something I have dubbed “the Wilco Paradox,” named for my inability to click with any Wilco record that was not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot;this curse was broken by the truly-underrated Sky Blue Sky, though it was rekindled in time for Wilco (The Album) and The Whole Love). I always figured, if I went back to Multiply, I would find something I liked. After all, Warp Records did, right?
The problem with Jamie Lidell’s newest eponymous album is that, most curiously, it sounds exactly like a Warp Records album. One might see this as a good thing – which it normally would be – but I’ll explain. “I’m Selfish” starts up with a blast of bubbling synths, which sound so forced, that you’re immediately pushed out of the record, rather than in it. These tracks feel like the 80s, but they sound like the 80s as seen through the lens of an 80s California-based cop film, which is exactly what I hear when the drum-machine blorts come in on “Big Love,” and I know that I can’t be the only one. The album’s lead single, “What A Shame,” is enough of a banger to help you feel like the first two tracks weren’t a waste of your time, where Lidell crooning like I like you’d really want him to… but then, there’s the rest of the album, which made me feel like I was fighting to get to the end, rather than hoping it wouldn’t end. “Why Ya Why” comes replete with horn wails and a synth line that reminded me of someone simply hitting the demo button on their new Casio and letting it roll. Once the penultimate track, “Don’t You Love Me,” shows up, it’s hard not to feel a little relieved by a truly beautiful song. Lidell has never been the most eloquent songwriter, but he’s always made up for it with gusto – which “Don’t You Love Me” has plenty of: when he sings “We need a new direction / Cause don’t know if we can go on this way,” you genuinely feel for the heart that wrote that line, even if the soul of it comes courtesy of – for better or worse – Stevie Wonder. Unfortunately, once “In Your Mind” comes along, that soul is replaced by robot vocals and the same weak synths that made the rest of the album so difficult to get through.
Jamie Lidell is not a bad record. I know I’ve definitely made it sound that way, but it honestly isn’t. Jim was an album that has never truly left my “music to sing along to in the shower” rotation, and as such, I’ve never given his other works the time of day they deserved. It could very well be that the problem isn’t him, it’s me. There’s a charm to it, in the same way that those old 90s Warp albums had that charm. The unfortunate thing is, beneath those charms could be found layers of depth and loving craft. Jamie Lidell, in the end, sounds like your friend’s kid brother who copies everything you and your friends do in an attempt to be cool – without really bothering to understand why you do those things in the first place.