Jamie Lidell has evidently been through some hell in the last couple years.
His newest "Compass" shows signs of suffering in between the humor and playfulness of his soul-centered jams. While dance party-inducing, electronic-heavy album "Multiply" (2005) or tracks like "Another Day" from 2008's "Jim" are what come to mind when it comes to the British singer and songwriter, you can't hold it against him that the formula has been shoved into a cage, rattled, and steps out as a darker, stranger animal.
Take "The Ring" for instance. It's still nasty, a Parliament-loving, linear floor-shaker, though the samples and Lidell's own wails rail dementedly in a downward spiral, more than the simple circle its title insinuates.
He channels more contemporary R&B singers like Cee-Lo and Robin Thicke -- as opposed to the more-frequently compared acts Al Green and Otis Redding -- on "She Needs Me," a Gospel-tinged sex song, the arrangement overwhelming and heavy, though is musicianship lithe and bursting with imagination, as far as tracks like it go.
Then there's the straight-up saddies like the title track (heard here) and, clocking in at 2:11, "I Can Love Again." On the latter, is it a declaration, a question, an affirmation? More like an exhilation, in that short amount of time, droopily posing, "Now you're gone... I can cry all by myself."
"You Are Waking" is the retort to that guy, like the flip-side to Lidell on a bad day, aggressively pressing the boundaries of his own vocal abilities. Long after that is standout "Big Drift," which should've been the tune to shine off this set with a bang instead of the "You See My Light," the acoustic whimper; it's a pretty typical choice for such a confessional album, but isn't strong enough of a send off dock of sad love and disillusion. Weak, too, is "Gypsy Blood," a misguided pop music stew.
Still, even with the missteps, it's and ecclectic, chance-taking set from Lidell, a boldstep forward I'm glad he's taking. Much like LCD Soundsystem's new effort "This Is Happening," "Compass" meanders and roils through a number of personal triumphs and upsets and, while both gentlemen could undoubtedly make crowd-pleasing dance numbers that could be manufactured in their sleep, they've challenged themselves and, in turn, the listener. Lidell got help along the way from co-producers like Beck and Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, and well over a dozen collaborators (some celebrity, some not) to recognize this wild artifact. Only Lidell knows what launched him off on this tangent, but I'm thankful that it/he/she/they did.