It’s getting tougher to find music that isn’t tweaked, touched-up or airbrushed. For Jamie Lidell, the boundary between embracing the new and dreaming of a simpler time isn’t so simple. He’s enamoured with old school soul and R&B, but his music has always benefitted greatly from his talents as a producer and finding fresh ways to convey old ideas. And on his self-titled fifth LP, these skills dwarf his abilities as a songwriter. He makes the most of his busy, state-of-the-art production style, but a few fun throwbacks aside, he’s in a holding pattern.
Jamie Lidell takes almost all of its production cues from specific songs that are at least thirty years old, adding touches of modernity along the way. Usually, this comes in the form of perky, dubby electronics. “You Know My Name” pulls the misshapen keyboard’s from Talking Heads’ “Making Flippy Floppy” and lays it over gritty bass and marshland synths, while the gospel overtures of “Don’t You Love Me” bring to mind any number of Stevie Wonder tunes. Unlike his previous albums, however, Lidell doesn’t have his own philosophy with these sounds. He often sounds uninterested and even bewildered by his own music.
Of course there are exceptions. Lead track “I’m Selfish” is downright celebratory, and the plaintive “What A Shame” tips its cap to both unconventionality and mass appeal. When Lidell begins with “Gonna stop the conversation,” all you want to do is shut up and listen. On the other side of the coin, there are songs like “Why_Ya_Why,” which crazy glues New Orleans jazz to 80s pastiche. The results are horrific. Even if the rest of the band didn’t sound like they’d polished off nine rounds of bourbon before heading over to the studio to lay the track down, it would still sound misguided. “You Naked” borders on obnoxious after a promising opening. After Lidell repeats “You make-a me crazy” for the seventeenth time, you realize it’s not that strong of a hook after all.
Lidell is a dependable singer, but more so than before, comparisons to genre titans are not just warranted, they’re invited. Prince is the most obvious touchstone, and Lidell settles for mimicry. His diction is messy, his lyrics generic: “But what the hell we’re fighting for/Before you’re shoot me/Let me show you the door, the door,” he sings on “So Cold.” Even still, the most frustrating thing about these eleven songs is that it sounds as if Lidell is shackled by the aesthetic, and it’s totally self-imposed. He’s capable of more. It’s all a little too anonymous, and as Lidell himself notes, “totally detached.”