Recorded in Berlin, Los Angeles and Paris, Jim takes even further what was started with Multiply, finding the balance between the spontaneouscreativity of his raw ideas and the careful craft and polish of a great record. Jim will switch you on in the morning, move you on the dance-floor and take you down in the small hours. It s a bold, promiscuously diverse album, mixing up gospel grooves, sweetly sung and fiercely passionatesoul, delicately moving ballads, thumping early R & B, synthed-up disco,and even a touch of hillbilly funk. I haven t tried to hide the influences,says Jamie Lidell ''This is the music I love.'' But, listen closely and you canhear Jamie moving in new directions, creating a sound and style that isentirely his own.
Review by John Bush
Some electronica producers spend their entire careers building up a roster of instruments, legions of samples, and more gear than any bedroom studio could possibly fit. Jamie Lidell has apparently been reducing not only his equipment list to its basics, but his production style, so it includes a minimum of things that you need to program (much less plug in). Of course, that jives with his gradual blossoming as an unhinged soul singer on 2005's Multiply, which has only blossomed further for 2008's Jim, a neo-soul record that sounds like it was recorded live, in the kind of studio that each of the album's seven to eight musicians actually could fit into. Part of this is the result of Lidell and co-producer Mocky's ability to record so well that the production doesn't stand out by itself, but simply works as a vehicle for the songs. On a performance level, Lidell mostly avoids the pitfalls of Multiply, where he sounded faithful but not always sincere. On Jim he's not only writing better songs, but performing them as though he's lived them (this is where a good hands-off production can improve the proceedings). It doesn't really matter whether Lidell's rebirth as a soul singer is an example of an artist following his muse or simply looking for a way out of electronica, when the results motivate your body as well as "Out of My System" or move your heart as well as "All I Wanna Do." Jim is most reminiscent of the Southern deep soul of the late '60s, although recorded so well (and so dry) that it betrays its lineage. That sound is a good complement to the other British soul stalwarts with retro-soul and -funk leanings, from Lewis Taylor to Jamiroquai to the Cinematic Orchestra (and, for that matter, including Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse as well). Add to that an assortment of unobtrusive guests (including Nikka Costa, Gonzales, Peaches, and Alex Acuna) doing great work, and the result is a record that reveals soul and sincerity.
Jamie Lidell has built his career upon surprising people, whether via his on-stage antics, sudden stylistic shifts, or cryptic interviews. But the biggest twist to his third album, Jim, might just be its lack of left turns. Jim isn't quite Lidell's Sea Change, but it's close, and not only because the singer and producer recently toured and recorded with Beck. Despite a few uptempo rockers, the album is generally subdued; its perspective is almost confessional.
On the surface a collection of love songs, Jim remains obsessed with the themes of emotional imbalance, self-doubt, and dual identity that Lidell introduced on 2005's Multiply. Building on the blueprint drafted for that album, Jim deepens the singer's engagement with 1960s and 70s r&b across a carefully crafted set of ballads, rave-ups, and easygoing soul, showing off not only his considerable vocal chops but also the songwriting and studio prowess of his longtime collaborators Gonzales and Mocky. (Co-producer Mocky shares songwriting credits on virtually all the album's songs; Gonzales had a hand in two, and the Tower Recordings' collaborator Andre Vida, responsible for Multiply's horns, is credited on one.) Given Lidell's past provocations, Jim's spoonful of sugar will likely disorient some fans. But thick with hooks and Hammonds, funk squelch and background doo-wop, Jim nevertheless makes for some of the most satisfying Sunday-morning listening you'll hear this year. That Gonzalez and Mocky also played significant roles in the creation of Feist's The Reminder shouldn't be surprising. (Lidell appeared on that album as well: he sings and is credited as "Energy Arranger" on "So Sorry".) For all Lidell's background in the trenches of the rave scene and its experimental aftermath, Jim is unabashedly pop in spirit and feel-good in sound.
After Lidell's abrasive first record, 2000's Muddlin' Gear and the avant-funk he concocted in the duo Super_Collider (with Chilean-English techno veteran Cristian Vogel), Multiply's sparkling keyboards, taut electric funk, and rattling tambourines often earned accusations of pastiche. That wasn't always far off: The album's songwriting, production and vocal delivery are deeply indebted to the soul tradition from Stax to Motown, Prince to D'Angelo. With its plucked bass and careful treble counterpoints, "Multiply", a song about the joys of a split personality, sounds almost like a repurposed "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay". That combination of subject matter and source material ought to have been enough to undercut the charges that Multiply tried too hard to be "authentic," but it wasn't. You can find a typical criticism in Andy Kellman's review for Allmusic.com, where he calls the album "as authentic as any neo-soul release"-- a faint-praise damnation that makes "authenticity" sound positively counterfeit-- and complains that "there's so much overly earnest, reverential, 'let's get back to making real music' energy floating around that you can sense it nibbling away at the desire to make something that sounds like today."
If anything, there's even more pastiche on Jim, but that never stops the music from sounding relevant. (Part of Jim's pleasure is that it doesn't sound terribly concerned about the sound of "today.") The rollicking "Where D'You Go" is an exercise in sock-hopping 50s rock'n'roll. "Out of My System" burns a hole through the back of James Brown's cloak. "Hurricane" could almost be a White Stripes song, if they spent more time listening to the Meters and less with Led Zep. "Out of My System" is even more shameless in its borrowings, opening with a riff stolen from Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" and closing with railroad-whistle chants straight out of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil". (The reference to the latter act-- as well as the "Sheriff"-covering Eric Clapton-- serves as a useful reminder that Lidell is hardly the first white, English artist to find inspiration in African-American musical traditions.)
Indeed, after listening to the heavily acoustic, era-faithful Jim, Multiply begins to sound like more of an "electronic" release than ever before. For all its debt to American soul forebears, the album was riddled with clever edits, digital effects, and transient random noise bursts. Jim may have been recorded in Berlin, Paris, and L.A., but its natural reverbs and warm room tones sound more intimate than that jetsetting might suggest. On Jim, the "experimental" bits are folded more deeply into the whole. A few minutes into "Little Bit of Feel Good", there's an ambient blues bridge where the soloing saxophone takes a weird modal leap; build out a loop of that and you might have the basis for a Rune Grammofon release. But by and large, the outre moments have been toned down and blended in, as with the drifting electronic touches of "Figure Me Out". Far more unified than Multiply, the album has a satisfyingly cohesive arc, although the comparatively banging "Out of My System" and "Hurricane" may well get left off of the make-out music playlists inspired by more Al Green-influenced fare like "Green Light".
Jim might be far less interesting were it not for the ambiguities that Lidell brings to the table. His turn towards the personal is right there in the title; the press release goes so far as to declare, "Jamie is Jim." But it's never so easy with Lidell. He's a notoriously slippery artist straddling two scenes-- underground electronic-music subculture and indie hegemony-- obsessed with authenticity and distrustful of ambition. It's never clear whether Jim is also Jamie, or whether the titular character is just that, a character-- Lidell's Jim Shady, perhaps. Most of the songs on Jim are sung in second person, but Lidell's lyrical declarations cut in unpredictable ways. "Another Day", in which he sings of searching for "another day/ Another way for me to open up to you" might just be a love song, like a good half of the album's 10 tracks. But when he sings, "I used to scream when a whisper would do," it's hard not to be reminded of Lidell's rep as a belter and a noisemaker, and wonder if he's not addressing the conspicuous mellowing of his sound.
But ultimately, such biographical bits are probably of the greatest interest to lit-crit schooled music reviewers and potential stalkers. Jim succeeds by virtue of its polish. The record sounds simply wonderful: alternately nubby and spangled, it's like a cashmere throw that turns intermittently into a showman's cape. Lidell's voice has never sounded better than it does here. With his mellifluous melismas and effortless fillips, he's as captivating here as his sweat-soaked, seat-of-his-pants Doppelganger is on stage, just for different reasons. Three years ago, reviewing Lidell's chaotic live set, Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal wrote that "Lidell's focus on his ancillary musical wares-- and not his main-stage voice-- seemed to demonstrate that his popular crooner persona may just be a seriously enjoyable excursion rather than a nostalgic destination." From the Bacharach-inspired kitsch of "Another Day" to the touches of Nick Drake on the closing "Rope of Sand", Jim now suggests otherwise: This is an album by an artist getting comfortable with his softer side. It's another welcome surprise.
-Philip Sherburne, April 30, 2008