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Jamie Lidell sings from the heart, riffs on the absurd 

Wednesday, May 21 2008
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The blackest-singing white man since Rick Astley, Jamie Lidell is as delightfully inscrutable on his albums as he is charmingly unhinged in person. In between sips of a champagne cocktail at a swanky New York hotel, the electronic producer and musical virtuoso announces he's not really here on a publicity stop for his third solo album, Jim. Lidell's true intentions for coming to town were to "shop my ass off, eat like a bastard, get pretty wasted, and hang with the beautiful people. And moonwalk."

Then, apropos of nothing, he begins riffing on his plan to impress the locals. "Aren't folks into gunsports here?" he asks. "I'd like to catch a fur or two to display in an opulent manner, and to walk around with freshly killed meats — a steak under my hat, maybe, a little bit of blood dripping down my face just to show it's fresh.'"

Though the native Englishman — who was once, believe it or not, vegetarian — is a goofy ad-lib machine in person, Jim is a fairly sober work. It veers away from both the electronic gymnastics of Super_Collider (his side project with techno producer Cristian Vogel) and the bundle of voice and sound manipulations that was his last album, Multiply. The disc also features little of Lidell's famed beatboxing, although that doesn't mean he's unwilling to contemplate a pair of hypothetical battles. He doubts he could take Darren "Buffy, the Human Beatbox" Robinson of the Fat Boys, but likes his chances against Michael "Police Academy" Winslow. "I would swallow the mike, then shit it out and use it to floss the colonic tract," Lidell imparts.

Edging away from these types of whimsical (and perhaps hospitalizing) experimentations, Lidell headed to Los Angeles to make his sunny-sounding record. Jim is indeed a heartfelt existential celebration, beginning with its earnest lyrics. "Another day, another way for me to open up to you," he sings on the album's opener, "Another Day," sounding like a man in love. (After living in Berlin for eight years, Lidell is moving to Paris to be with his girlfriend.) Helmed by Lidell and frequent collaborator Mocky, the album's organic, ground-up production style reflects an evolution in his recording philosophy — but the album doesn't skimp on the rump-shakers. The electro-tinged, Jamiroquai-recalling "Figured Me Out" boasts a retro-futuristic beat, while the almost surf-rock "Hurricane" is a prime example of the California sound Lidell traveled halfway across the world to obtain. But the album's Motown and soul-style ballads stand out. The only problem is that in an era of endless irony it's almost hard to accept the songs' sugary honesty. Lidell's ecstatic yelps and the disco-bass on "Little Bit of Feel Good," for example, feel like a dead-serious take on Snoop's "Sensual Seduction," while the relaxed, rollerskate synths of "Green Light" feel only a half-step removed from the smirking R&B that was Beck's Midnite Vultures.

While it's hard to reconcile the wisecracking madman peering out from behind the champagne flute with the author of such sincere-sounding ditties, Lidell insists that the album's title reflects the fact that its contents represents the real him. Still, that doesn't erase the entertainer's mammoth commercial intentions. "I want to go triple platinum," he says, "or quad." Like most everything else that comes out of Jamie Lidell's mouth, you can be sure he's kidding and also quite serious.

About The Author

Ben Westhoff

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