Jamie Lidell – Jamie Lidell
In winter of 2011, New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz challenged his Facebook followers (presumably many of whom were artists) to recreate any Gerhard Richter painting for which Saltz would then pay a nominal price. This because the critic had tired of an art world in which “the little guy” is nearly always priced out of actually owning pieces by prominent artists like the famous, and still living, abstractionist. The lesson that shook out from all of this was that Saltz, while never forgetting his faux Richter was exactly just that, came to appreciate his lovingly and skillfully rendered knockoff because it triggered “enough memory of [an] actual Richter that [it] became real enough.”
Jamie Lidell is not Prince, or Sun Ra, or Sly Stone, or any of the numerous funk/soul/R&B virtuosos who inspired the music on the singer’s recent self-titled album. Who he is is a 39-year-old long-player nerd from a tiny village in the English countryside who appropriates the work of those American artists into painstakingly detailed pop salutations. He’s similar to the relatively unknown New Jersey-based artist who created Saltz’s Richter in that he nowhere near approaches being a hack (the music he makes here, and on more expansive past releases Jim and Compass, is too accomplished), but unlike him because he remains unblushing in the name of mining for American funk nostalgia while carving out a paying musical career in the process. No one commissioned Lidell to make records like this and, unless his preferences take a divergent turn on subsequent albums, he’ll probably always be recalled for what he is: a fish-out-of-water who uncannily pays homage to aesthetics he didn’t create in the first place.
So if your first instinct upon hearing Jamie Lidell was to file it away for your next house party mix, then you’re doing exactly what I was when I heard it, and what Saltz did upon spying his fake Richter: squinting hard enough to forget the artist’s shortcomings and allowing the jams to stand on their own catchy merits. “Big Love”, for example, is a synthesized romp through the mid-’80s which could stand-in for Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” if that version is inexplicably missing from your wedding DJ’s laptop. Likewise, the conspicuous vocoder effects on “In Your Mind” and “Do Yourself a Faver” nod to the Brothers Troutman, and Lidell’s sharp falsetto on “I’m Selfish” hints at the Paisley One’s funk abandon circa 1986. These are the very “real” moments that will remind you of the best times you had dancing to Lidell’s progenitors, all Aquanet and acid-washed dreams.
Unfortunately, for every moment of neon wistfulness, there is half a skip-worthy one. Lidell’s voice has always been his biggest liability and its leanness doesn’t provide enough weight to “You Know My Name” which is meant to be a magnanimous statement on his musical prowess. Likewise, ”Don’t You Love Me” is a romantic lament that should be affecting but comes across as mechanical. Lidell is capable of adding his own off-beat electronic flourishes to traditional takes on soul (see 2010’s rangy Compass), and this album would have gone over better if he’d inserted more contemporary detours like “What a Shame” (a sort of El-P/Skrillex mash-up) between all the genuflection.
In its best moments, Jamie Lidell will inspire you to do the running man while making a mental note about finally adding that Cameo playlist to your Spotify. In its weaker ones, you will wonder why you’re spending time with it when you could be reliving its legendary source material. I say, there are reasons why we find ourselves reaching for our worn-out copies of Sign ‘O’ the Times again and again, and it’s okay if artists like Jamie Lidell are allowed to be the popular caretakers of that romanticism. The world of pop music, fortunately, is democratized to a much greater degree than the fine art world Jerry Saltz described. Thank goodness we are free to display our preferences whenever the mood strikes.