Jamie Lidell’s “Multiply” might have faded from our minds and iPods since 2005, but the British blue-eyed soul singer’s back in a big way. A big, romantic, retro, soul kind of a way, that is. Jim, his second solo album on Warp (not counting the collection of Multiply remixes released in 2006), picks right up where the earlier record left off—almost. His new collection of songs is both more polished and more genre-limited than Multiply. But because the Berlin-based singer’s such a consummate professional, this material is an absolute pleasure to hear from start to finish. Oh, maybe it’s not his professionalism that gives that impression—it’s his infectious joy. “Give yourself the green light”, Lidell sings, and his optimism is unquenchable.
In an indie music atmosphere that’s leaning (this year) decidedly towards the folk and psych ends of the spectrum, Lidell’s retro style provides a welcome contrast (as indeed it did in 2005). Nevertheless, a quick comparison: return to “Multiply” after you’ve just heard “Little Bit of Feel Good” and the older song sounds staid, contained, understated. But maybe that’s unfair, because “Little Bit of Feel Good” is the funkiest, most exuberant song on the album. It’s impossible to resist. If not Best New Music, it’s Best Music That’s Being Made Right Now.
Two elements of Lidell’s composition and production, in particular, seem to have gelled on Jim: economy and crisp precision. The former’s an undeniable compositional advantage. The brass-and-horns interlude of “Another Day”, for example, brilliantly recalls a Frank Sinatra standard (“Fly Me to the Moon”) before jumping lithely back to the original timbre. It’s now a Lidell trademark to employ the various ingredients of retro soul—jazz tonalities, gospel backing choruses—in slick layers that aren’t apparent the first few times the songs are casually heard. The crisp production, though, belies the fact that Jim could never have been made 30 years ago. It’s the way the cymbal sound in the chorus of “Out of My System” splays out into computerized distortion, or the way the accompaniment in the gentle ballad “All I Wanna Do” evolves from simple acoustic guitar to arpeggiated organ to fuzzy atmospheric effect.
Still, the subtlety of these electronics and the discretion of their employment are what makes Jim an ultimately more accomplished record than Multiply. You won’t find a song like the electro-hiccup “When I Come Back Around” here. Instead, there are more pianos; a song called “Green Light” wraps them around a clicking horse-shoe percussion and faint aquatic effects. And early highlight “Wait for Me” is all unbridled celebration, a little bit “Runaway” and a little bit orange shirts and bell bottoms.
You get the feeling Lidell could keep pumping out these perfectly-minted soul songs forever. That’s fine with me—he’s great at it. And ten songs at just under 40 minutes is the perfect dose of neo-soul for anyone who’s been pummeled by a bit too much depressive tight-jeaned guitar music over the winter. It’s the beginning of spring, Jim is, with the straightforward and admirable aim of getting us all to enjoy life just a bit more. As Lidell himself explains :
All I really wanna do
Is show you how easy it could be
To paint back the colours, the green in your tree
Before it all fades away.