Things have panned out pretty damn well for Jamie Lidell since he jumped feet-first into soul revivalism five years ago. He started his career as one half of DJ duo Supercollider before delivering 2005’s Multiply, an album that started him down the path that led him to collaborating with Beck (America’s favorite Scientologist produced this one) and slowly but surely moving up festival-lineup posters to somewhere around the top third. Now he’s ready to move up a few more spots via his fifth album, Compass, an album that takes the great strides Lidell made on Jim and updates them via his earlier electronic tendencies.
It takes some time getting used to, the notion that a white-boy former DJ from Britain might be the best soul singer on earth right now. But Lidell is lobbying hard, lending his buttery, spine-tickling croon to tracks that show the emotional cracks in his vocals and songs that allow him to flex like a Soundgarden-era Chris Cornell who listened to more Marvin Gaye than Led Zeppelin. Lidell’s songs may scratch the same itch that Al Green scratched bloody 25 years ago, but being that we’re living in an era where the son of Alan Thicke is arguably the world’s most successful R&B singer, it’s open season for albums like Compass.
The marked distinction between Jim and Compass is in the production. While Jim hemmed closely to conventional R&B tics like boom-boom-bap drumming, lush orchestration and blue-eyed ballads of loss, Compass is a bit more eccentric in its delivery. Take splendid lead single “The Ring,” for instance, which bounds and bounces on backing music that can be generously described as “flatulent.” “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” shuffles over a deconstructed beep-boop, while mega-ton rock riffage muscles-up “Coma Chameleon” and “You Are Waking.” Deconstructed and effected vocals give “Gypsy Blood” a much-needed oomph, while shimmering electronica provide added sentimentality to “It’s a Kiss.”
Fans of Jim need not fret though; there’s plenty of conventional party-starting soul here, ready to be performed by Lidell’s energetic backing band (including a saxophonist who regularly plays two at once). Deep cuts here, like the wrought ballad “Completely Exposed” and the Earth, Wind & Fire-esque “Your Sweet Boom” are sure to be highlights when Lidell hits these shores for another tour. While Compass, due partially to its longer track list, features a few duds that prevent it from surpassing the superior Jim, the album still shows Lidell as indie’s best answer to Robin Thicke and his compatriots, artists Lidell bests on a regular basis.