Jeff Pearson, February 26, 2013
Listen: “Do Yourself A Favor”
In the face of expectations to become the next Prince, Britain’s answer to Sly Stone, a laptop-Jamiroquai, Jamie Lidell opted for the path that we should have seen coming all along–to become the first Jamie Lidell. Over the course of his past five records, he has refused to adhere to those expectations that have been laid out before him, constantly veering one way or the other, almost as if he was shedding those labels at every turn before finally settling into an identity that he can confidently call his own. It’s the type of task that many before him have crumbled under; Oasis was supposed to be our Beatles replacement, Franz Ferdinand was supposed to be our Oasis replacement (though, ironically, no one claimed them as the next Beatles), and who among us didn’t think O-Town was going to be the next *NSYNC or Backstreet Boys? There seems to be something inherently damaging about such comparisons, as they typically attempt to give a congruous relationship to commercial success and stylistic elements, dictating an artist to continually fit whatever mold garnered them such comparisons in the first place while achieving the same success. An artist can never be destined to reach the same level of both the success and stylistic prowess their predecessor was able to; it can only be one or the other, so really there won’t ever be another Prince or Beatles–or even Backstreet Boys, for that matter. Lidell has taken the noteworthy approach of recognizing that, embracing it, and going on doing exactly what he always has–which is just being himself.
Liddell commented in a recent interview that with Jamie Lidell, his sixth record–fifth with the groundbreaking Berlin label, Warp–he wanted listeners to suspend those expectations of him, and take what they hear at face value (perhaps shedding some light on the decision to make this a self-titled effort). “There is hate and love for everything and no matter what you do, you will upset some people. If you know that’s the case, it’s easier to be yourself. If not, it leads to slow innovation and people trying to satisfy, rather than doing exactly what’s on their mind and feels right.” Lidell is not one for slow innovation. Each of his records have moved along with rapidity, shifting styles with each record, and even on a song-to-song basis. Jamie Lidell achieves the rare feat of maintaining that level of variation, while having a clearly defined identity throughout, making it Lidell’s most unified effort to date.
Where it becomes unified is a place that the nineties pop bliss present in radio R&B lives comfortably alongside future-leaning electronic ideals, an infectiously catchy and irresistibly funky affair. “I’m Selfish” introduces the listener to that space; the track mixes soulful swagger and almost extraterrestrial futurism. Digital electronic glee flutters through the mix like a fluorescent butterfly while Lidell colors the track with a sort of cynicism that he delivers with the age-old wink of catchiness, saying, “Used to make it all about me, ’cause baby I’m selfish.” Lidell has always gotten a pass for the picture he paints of himself in his lyrics with the undeniable singalong effect his songs possess, and “I’m Selfish” sets the tone for the entire record of likeability being derived entirely by the level of fun within the tracks rather than just what he is saying in them.
Luckily–for everyone–the level of fun on Jamie Lidell is at an all-time high. The first half of the record never lets up, with high-energy cuts stacking on top of one another–from the shimmering funk of “I’m Selfish” and “Big Love” to the trap-meets-soul “What A Shame”–each track builds on the last’s momentum. Following “What A Shame” is the peak of the record, the falsetto-driven “Do Yourself A Favor,” which bounces along like a G-funk tour de force before bursting into the smoothly snarky chorus of, “Every little thing that you do, try to play with me / But you know you’d better do yourself a favor / Every little thing that do try to get into my life / Ain’t going to work, no way, no, never.” Ghoulish synthesizers and robotic backing vocals pepper the propulsively dancy track, giving it the feel of some impossibly distant dance floor in the future rediscovering its love for disco in a moment of group transcendence; it’s the record’s best example of Lidell’s keen ability to combine past sensibilities with those that haven’t even been tapped into yet.
Though “Do Yourself A Favor” is the most coherent moment of clarity between the two eras of music–the past and the future–Jamie Lidell is full of moments like it. “You Naked” weaves from stuttering funk to techno breaks, while the eerie “Why_Ya_Why” sounds like Tom Waits got ahold of some space-age musical equipment in a Bourbon Street back alley on a late-night bender in his heyday. The second half of the record plays much like the first, though he uses the depth of the LP to explore even deeper. “You Know My Name” and “In Your Mind” maintain a level of collected pop coolness, but test how far the listener is willing to travel with him. Lidell’s refusal to adhere to one certain set of expectations throughout the record further proves that the lack of adherence is his identity. There is no clear path on the record but somehow the destination is always the same. It’s always going to be funky, it’s always going to be fun. It won’t be too long before we’re looking for the next Jamie Lidell.