[CD Review] Jamie Lidell, 'Jim' (Warp)

Jim is a mighty subversive record, if viewed from a certain angle. It's an inspired if ultimately milquetoast pop-soul effort by the nicest guy to make it out of hard experimental techno alive. Jamie Lidell—who also sings in the techno group Supercollider with Cristian Vogel, and who brought manipulated vox into smart, soulful techno better than Underworld did—has tapped into, as he calls it, his “inner radio” to make a straight-up R&B record for a label more known for electronic music mavericks Squarepusher and Aphex Twin. Contrarian as that may be, it doesn't make an album of soulful wailing and good-timey, upright-piano soul sound any more convincing.

You can't say you didn't see Jim coming; 2005's Multiply edged toward Jamiroquai territory, albeit more inventively than the goofy-hatted one, happening on a likable post-techno soul, even if the purists who preferred rave-era Jamie charged him with minstrelsy. Jim will give the haters plenty to gab about; it's such a sunny take on timeless R&B pop—the opener “Another Day” even has chirping birds in it—that it's like hearing Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson's “Say Say Say” or Phil Collins sing “Sussudio” when what you really wanted was next-school Beatles or Genesis.

Jim tap-dances into male Amy Winehouse territory with its soulful refrains and raspy rave-ups (“Out of My System,” etc.), and Lidell can sing in a kind of raspberry croon reminiscent of Otis Redding and Steve Winwood. But the happy songs—postured as they are as archetypal R&B constructs with piano rolls, Motown horns and all—tap more into the rhythm than the blues. What could have been a Moby-meets-John Legend record falls oddly flat; Jim is full of the sort of traditional soul tunes you'd expect from an American Idol finalist, not from somebody as supremely gifted as Lidell. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not all that memorable, either.

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