Reality. As we grow older each day, we watch our heroes, our idols, our favorite artists, etc. get old — or just older.
Artists, like athletes, rarely age well. At best, they modify their artistry, or return to create what worked best for them. Still, Two Against Nature is not Aja or Gaucho. As much as people wanted to love Life Is Good, it was not even It Was Written, let alone Illmatic. After a few listens of Soldier of Love, we yearned for Love Deluxe. And is anyone out there still listening to Magna Carta Holy Grail? (I know it has only been a few months.)
Over a decade ago, while I was living in Japan, I listened to Omar’s brilliant Best By Far, and wondered when was he going to fall off, or release that mediocre album that all artists do when they hit a plateau or just simply artistically age. The answer came about five years later with his release of Sing (If You Want It). I was less than excited about The Man, and only found out about it as I decided to listen to post new millennium music again after mainly listening to boogie and rare disco for six months.
On The Man, Omar takes us back to the classic sounds of his mid-1990s classics, For Pleasure and This Is Not A Love Song — but not completely. The feel good grooves, soulful but at times simple melodies, and the contemplating lyrics are there. However, themes are much more “Simplify,” as evidently by the appropriately named first track, in comparison to his mid-1990s classics. From the first few minutes of The Man, you will here strings, muted horns, his trademark squirming/squelching keyboards, and those damn soulful but distinctive vocals — all things that are classic Omar, and it makes you yearn for 1997. On both “Simplify” and the title track, Omar is singing about finding love and simplifying his life, defining it by making changes and giving in to love. It sounds beautifully simple.
“Come On Speak to Me” is self reflection without pretension and bullshit spirituality talk. The songwriting and production of “Treat You” blends in perfectly with Caron Wheeler’s voice. “Fuck War Make Love” and “High Heels” are worth it for the soulful grooves alone. These are soul songs that sounds great, and the music is creative and complex, but yet, easily likable. “I Love Being With You,” has a simple melody but then Omar brings in subtle lushness and honest vocals. It is a perfect love song. Other highlights at the end of the album include an updated, slightly stripped down version of his first UK hit, “There’s Nothing Like This.” Omar and guest, Pino Palladino breath new life into a 23 year old (gasp!) song. On “Ordinary Day,” Omar reflects on life with his new daughters, and reminds us to appreciate every normal mundane day, and to “make time, make time, make time, just for the ones you love.”
Other artists with their vague convenient spirituality may claim to make “life music,” but whether he is talking about his past failings, children, politics, unemployment, or the simple yet frustrating nuances of relationships, Omar’s music and themes are true soulful sounds of life. As I listened to The Man, I thought about how Omar never achieved mainstream success outside of his UK Top 20 single and album, There’s Nothing Like This, twenty-three years ago. Of all the Common albums to be on, Omar was on Electric Circus. Through strange fate, weird luck, and label changes from Talking Loud to RCA to Ether and beyond, Omar Lye-Fook is still making music over 25 years later. (The Man is on Freestyle Records.) He received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2012. So, while mainstream success have eluded him, important people and discerning soul music fans worldwide still recognize his genius and allow him to continue to make music.
The Man is not Best By Far, and it is not his best album, but it is a damn good album from an artist who has seemingly found contentment in his artistic and family life. I often think that I should have made Omar’s best work, This Is Not A Lovesong, the blueprint for life in my twenties. Things probably would have been different in my life. As I listen to The Man, I thought about revisiting it in two to three years, when I hope to find my contentment. If that is not “life music,” I don’t know what is.