ALBUM REVIEW: Jamie Lidell – Compass

by Uncle Funkle

British soulster Jamie Lidell takes us on a journey through the rough terrain of newfound love on his latest album, Compass. Sounds a bit cliché, but fear not.  If you’re familiar with his last two albums (2005’s Multiply and 2008’s Jim), then you know that Jamie is not your typical soul singer.  His mad-scientist production ethos, mixed with lyrics that lean towards yearning and exposing insecurities, make for an engaging and eclectic listening experience.

The album starts off with the serious swag of “Completely Exposed,” with its tale of vulnerability that funkily chugs along thanks to a beatbox that doubles as the song’s rhythmic bottom.  Songs like “Your Sweet Boom” and “The Ring” sound like they were recorded in the middle of a lonely dirt road, which is all the better for him to experiment and indulge his quirky tendencies.  “She Needs Me” is a sexy, mid-tempo scorcher that takes cues from vintage Mtume (think “You Me and He”) and will make the slightest of soul snobs a believer in Jamie’s mission.  “Enough’s Enough (my personal favorite)” and “You Are Waking” inject an infectious punch of energy that punctuates the way that his subject matter is making him feel:  giddy and unashamed…like a typical nerd boy in love.  His feelings are on full display on “I Can Love Again” and “It’s A Kiss,” but it’s the title track that sums up the spirit of the excursion with one simple phrase: “Now I know the only compass that I need is the one that leads back to you.” This track has a Moroccan flavor that serves as an epic backdrop and underscores the urgency of this journey he’s on. Towards the end, you can hear the weariness that is a result of the relationship taking its toll on Jamie. In the midst of despair, he tries to make sense of it all on “Big Drift” (co-written by Feist and Beck, who also co-produced the album), and “You See My Light” finds Jamie’s compass pointed towards his lost love again, but this time to express his appreciation for her having seen past his self-proclaimed blackness.

Influences abound throughout this album, from Prince to Stevie Wonder to Hall and Oates, but it is more so homage than imitation.  Like those artists before him, he brings a curious nature to what he is doing that creates a sense of adventure and fearlessness that allows him to continue expanding the boundaries of soul and electronic music.  What Jamie does is nothing short of genius:  He manages to make music that is simultaneously cosmopolitan and rustic, while maintaining his integrity by making soul music his way.  His forward-thinking approach could be mistaken as “weird,” but upon closer inspection, reveals a mirror image of the spontaneity and uncertainties of life and love that can be tough to navigate.  Whether the compass points you toward love, away from it, or even towards yourself, it’s the discoveries that make the journey worth while.