“You’re always going to be influenced by something, you can’t re-invent the wheel… I’m starting to realise that there’s no harm in wearing your influences on your sleeve because ultimately you’ll always make it your own anyway. I’ll never be Prince – I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be Jam & The Hood but I want their energy, I want to harness what they make me feel.” – Jamie Lidell, in an interview with Clash magazine.
Blue-eyed Soul has weaved in and out of our musical conscious for longer than we think: Dusty Springfield in the 60s, all the way to the somewhat superfluous (and sometimes barely distinguishable) presences of Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake. In the latest phase of not-quite indie R&B though, Jamie Lidell brings to mind the idea of “blue-eyed Funk”. Though true Funk soldiers would leave the title of “funkiest” to perennial artists such as James Brown, Prince and George Clinton, it would seem that there are some artists that dare to tread where the Funk generals have — and in the whole process, make a record that at once recognizes the past and looks to the future. Jamie Lidell’s self-titled album, for the most part, manages to do just that.
On paper, Lidell is seemingly the whitest guy to ever attempt making electro-funk tunes: born in the UK, eventually making his way to Nashville, Tenessee to explore his funk horizons away from his previous New York City base. Previous collaborations include Beck, Feist and hangout sessions with members of the Black Keys. So how does one manage to craft a record that if you close your eyes, you’d think it was a reincarnation of the ghosts of 80s/90s electric-funk-past while knowing it’s a record from 2013?
Step 1: Make a grand statement from the jump.
One of my personal favourites from the album, “What A Shame”, exploded into my earbuds when it crossed my playlist. Heavy on bass, synths and fast-pulsating 808s and drum kits, the song seems at times, like it could be the background for a southern Hip-Hop banger, but is otherwise a not-so subtle tribute to Prince and New Generation 80s-era tracks, complete with harmony structures reminiscent of the super group. Simple lyrics and melody make for a lock on the mind, and allow you to concentrate more on the music, which follows the logic of “in like a lion, out like a lamb” — ending 10 times as softly as it began, almost mirroring its overall overtone of admission of the sham relationship recounted in the lyrics.
Step 2: Get slick, be a smart-ass, and get a 2-step in while you’re at it.
“Do Yourself a Faver”, slightly sounding like a Chromeo record, is easily the most danceable track on the entire LP. A sly, coy “you-think-you-know-me-but-you-have-no-idea” declaration is accompanied with the recognizable vocoder on the chorus and more synths, but this time treading a little lighter and giving more room to a baseline with bounce. The only thing slightly lacking here is the weak bridge, which takes the otherwise wildly enjoyable dance anthem down a few notches as it seems a little out of place, thanks to the keyboards which force the bottom to drop out for the few awkward seconds in which the bridge lingers.
Step 3: Wear your heart/musical influences on your sleeve.
Lidell’s self-confessed influences include Prince, Herbie Hancock and Sly and the Family Stone among many others — but it’s here in “You Know My Name” that Prince’s influence is blatantly felt and taken from, despite being hinted at throughout the entire album. From the jump, crazy, wailing keyboards set the tone for the track. Voices and harmonies at high, low and just plain weird levels. Chord progressions that drive the track forward and nowhere at the same damn time. Even the lyrics are blatantly Prince (Wanted in the streets / Wanted in the crowd / Want to feel that one thing / I will never be found). Despite all that… I’m still cool with this. In fact, if this is how Lidell plays tribute to the Funk forefathers and maybe even inspires others to find out just who the hell inspired him to make such crazy sounds as are found on the album, then who am I to claim violation of the funk spirit?
We as music listeners (and especially those of us at We Plug who listen to music constantly with a critical ear) are always looking for that new thing — which, in today’s world is getting more and more rare – but Jamie Lidell’s LP does the strange feat of giving Funk aficionados a familiar sound while also putting his own spin on such familiarity. They say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery; Lidell does just that, and so much more while allowing us, just this once, to have a little fun.
Honourable mentions: “Big Love”, “So Cold”, “In Your Mind”
Purchase: Jamie Lidell – Jamie Lidell (iTunes)