Jamie Lidell is a talented musical chameleon who has thus far built his solo career by largely forgoing his breeding grounds of electronica and moving toward the arenas of neo-soul and funk. And while there’s always a fine line between emulation and imitation, Lidell mostly achieves the former, creating interesting melodies in decidedly familiar styles.
JIM, his 2008 effort, may have been a really fun record, but Compass is the superior work; it has been described by some as the album Prince has desperately been trying to make for the last decade, and that’s not nearly as silly a description as you may think.
Lidell doesn’t exactly hide his points of reference—both tracks “Completely Exposed” and “She Needs Me” surge forward with beats and distorted backing vocals straight off of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” while “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” bears more than a titular reference to “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Likewise, “The Ring” sounds like the sort of lost rarity from Sign ‘O’ the Times that would surface on some kind of compilation by the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. But Lidell’s clearest influences never quite seem forced or ham-fisted – in fact, more than ever before, Lidell seems to have come into his own, and the music feels natural as a result.
While there’s plenty here to please Motown and James Brown enthusiasts, Lidell has also added thrown some more blues into the mix; “Big Drift” doesn’t sound far from something you’d hear the Black Keys doing, and there are a couple slower, introspective acoustic numbers (like closing track “You See My Light”) that showcase the diversity and intimacy that Lidell can achieve with his vocals when he wants to.
Some of his friends have helped out, too. Beck (whose Record Club series Lidell has contributed to) co-writes and produces a track or two; Feist takes on some backing vocals; numerous members of Grizzly Bear pop up; and so on and so forth. The songs are layered and distorted enough that it’s hard to really pick them out let alone name names, but maybe that’s a good thing, as nothing here really seems too overwrought.
In its essence, Compass is a gleefully weird and off-kilter album by a musician who seems to keep growing stronger and more consistent with every record. The wide array of styles present on the album might make it a bit more difficult for some listeners to get into, but that’s always been the biggest challenge with Lidell. No matter what the reaction may be to Compass, it’ll certainly be interesting to see where he goes from here.