Jamie Lidell sounds like everything you’ve ever heard, and yet nothing. More specifically, all the soul and rhythm and blues you’ve ever heard, and yet none of it. Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, even the aloof brilliance of Gil Scott Heron, they’re all here in spirit on this resplendent album, but they never interrupt.
The sound of street-corner harmonies, the drive of funk, the slappiest of slap bass, doo-wop to the power of ten, and everything else in between, it’s all here in spades. Yet where R ‘n’ B has become distinctly lacking in soul over the years, homogenised and trapped, Lidell injects it with the vibrancy and the urgency that it was always meant to have. In a way, and partly because of its heritage, Multiply can sound a little old-fashioned at times. But in another, more significant way, the hand-made and off-kilter feel to his arrangements ensures that Lidell’s music is timeless, perhaps even futuristic. Put it this way – if you think you know what to expect, you don’t.
At the centre of the charging disco, or the acrobatic bass, or whatever he feels like playing at any particular moment, there’s one thing you can’t escape. Jamie Lidell has an incredible, staggering, superlative-defying voice. From a growl to a falsetto, to a honey-soaked mid-range vocal, and back again twice in the blink of an ear, it really is hard to believe he’s a skinny white boy. Despite all the soul roots, the freeform nature of the album means that it often feels more like jazz. Each track is perfectly formed, and totally different from every other, yet almost feels as if it’s been improvised. Perhaps it’s the tireless energy, even evident on the ballads, that gives it this feel, but whatever it is, Multiply is an album that keeps powering forwards. Inspired without being derivative, Lidell in turn becomes inspirational.
The single that preceded the album, When I Come Back Around, exemplifies the range this man is capable of in a few blistering minutes. Electronica fizzes in and around the jittery vocal, as if it could veer out of control at any moment.
Then there’s What’s The Use?, an ambivalent track persuaded along with a rising arpeggiated bassline. Jamie sings: ‘I’m a question mark, a walking talking question mark.’ As you might expect with lyrics like that, the track is inquisitive and explorative, replete with a searching and reflective trumpet part. Look outside after this, and it’s quite likely that the sun will be shining.
The album takes a darker turn on The City, where Jamie reflects: ‘The city it don’t like you, no it never did, no it never did. And it won’t stop, won’t stop, ’til it’s got you on your knees.’ Otis Redding seems to be joining in on this track, with the direct and punchy vocals that grab you out of thin air.
Even the relatively gentle finale, Game For Fools, is more alive than most new music you’ll have heard this year. Lidell shows that being influenced by great music of the past doesn’t mean that you need to be limited by it. The key is learning how to multiply it.
Read our review of one of Jamie’s live performances.
Genre: Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Electronica
Record Label: Warp