Jamie Lidell – Multiply

Jamie Lidell

Don’t listen to the filing cards at your local record stores: Jamie Lidell’s Multiply is not an electronic album. Spurred by his fruitful collaboration with Christian Vogel in the undeniably fun Super Collider, Lidell has crafted an album of straight soul and funk tracks that very often reference his experimental past. When he does break into his past, it only fuels the fire, adding unheard-of twists and shouts to a genre that, despite its excellence, has progressed very little since the mid-80s.

On an album absolutely full of surprises (it’s on freakin’ Warp records, after all), Lidell’s uncompromised vocal performance stands out. He sheds the heavily treated vocals of the Super Collider albums and sings these tracks straight, like any great soul man. Make no mistake: Pharrel would burn his Bentleys to sound this strong. Lidell showcases a surprisingly strong voice throughout the album, handling smooth Motown ballads (“Game of Fools”) and gut-shot, Thriller-inspired pop-funk with equal aplomb. For anyone who thinks Lidell’s tributes to the past are unbecoming coming from a skinny white guy who recently appeared on the cover of “The Wire” in a cardigan and some silly sunglasses, drop your reservations: There’s nary a hint of irony or mockery on Multiply.

Your enjoyment of this disc, then, hinges almost totally on your enjoyment of 60s- and 70s-era soul and funk tracks. I can’t stress this enough. This is not electronic music dressed up in soul flourishes. These are gritty, courageous tributes to the great R&B records of years past. A lack of song credits suggest that most, if not all, of the instruments on Multiply are synthesized, but they sure don’t sound it. Pianos echo in warm pools of organ fills, and the drums fill up entire rooms, reverberating with the authority and muscle of a road-tested house band. The title track, the album’s poppiest, eats up a staccato guitar rhythm. The bass shines throughout the album, making this not only a great summer car album, but one primed for remixes and samples.

When Lidell does mix his blue-eyed past with his red-eyed present, the results are so enticing you wish he’d try it more often. “When I Come Back Around” uses a choppy, snapping drum kit to fuel Lidell’s more furious vocal take. And “The City” eclipses even that impressive take, letting a violent bass drum rip through a distant Lidell vocal, and eventually droning out the singer completely for a digital-funk coda that ranks as one of this year’s best music moments.

Fans of typical Warp Records artists should stay for away from this disc, unless they’re trying to expand their horizons. Lidell is seemingly dead serious about his turn as a soul man, and Multiply is not just the year’s most adventurous album, it’s one of its most melodic, soulful, and engaging as well.