White Soul—who qualifies? Jeff Buckley? Daryl Hall? Kevin Rowland? Will Young? Paul Young! Is it someone who replicates the Motown template or a vocalist that carves him(or her)self a pure, honest, and individual furrow? Do color barriers still exist? Can Jamie Lidell release a soul album on Warp Records which harks back to the sound of the greats of that genre?
Shit…I don’t know. If you were to judge Lidell by past efforts alone, it’d probably be a big fat “no.” His Warp debut Muddlin Gear was a scatterbrained splurge of ideas with little focus beyond its vocal cut “Looming Presence,” but even this track seemed more pastiche than straight-faced soul. His much-praised Super_collider project alongside Cristian Vogel wasn’t much better: too many experiments and not enough results.
Multiply sounds like he picked up some ancient reel-to-reel tape from lost Holland-Dozier-Holland sessions and gave them a 2005 production spit-and-polish. This would all be a pleasant instrumental affair if not for Lidell’s exceptional voice. Across the LPs ten tracks he manages to invoke the spirits and vibe of prime Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and D’Angelo. These vocal similarities don’t intentionally replicate the greats; it just sounds like Lidell’s found a great soul voice in a wacky white IDM dude’s body. There will likely be complaints that he’s merely treading in the footprints of greats, but it’s not like we’re going to get any new tracks from all these dead guys (or from the bloated crackhead formerly known as D’Angelo).
Beginning with the brief, squelchy “Yougotmeup” the album rarely steps wrong. Take the Cuban-heeled stride of “Multiply”; had Otis lived beyond 26 he might’ve discovered the joys of middle eight Stylophone solos too. Tracks like “A Little Bit More” (built from layers of vocal percussion a lá his live shows) and “Music Will Not Last” ooze warmth and energy. But for sheer every-mixtape-from-here-till-eternity quality nothing tops “When I Come Back Around,” which must’ve been taken straight from Prince’s vault of disco synth tomfoolery (at least someone has the key). The smudged electronica fingerprints of sound anchors the tune in the 1980’s; it’s even got a Michael Jackson-style “hee!”—possibly the last one you’ll hear for a long time.
Lidell’s most conventional song here, “What’s The Use?” evokes the days of great Stevie Wonder songs for the feet and heart as opposed to the brain, thanks to a crystalline tinkling piano and distant Spanish horn. But there are most certainly knob-twiddlers galore, as well: both “The City” and “”Newme,” feature electronic noise blasting around nasty crawling bass and chugging guitar. The album’s one blemish, “What is it this Time?” strays a little too close to the border of Clichétown Soul; it lacks the svelte toned musical figure of the rest of the album.
It’d be a great shame if Lidell’s energetic live performances or even the fact that this is a Warp release might trick people into thinking this is a pastiche. Back in 1972 Stevie Wonder claimed that having Soul was “the ability to express what you feel inwardly.” Jamie Lidell feels alive and Multiply proves it.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JUNE 13 – JUNE 19, 2005
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2005-06-13