Soul from space

    If I were to imagine a back story for Jamie Lidell it would go something like this: Otis Redding, Prince, Richard D. James and George Clinton were all out on a bender in Chicago one night, when they got the idea to break into the Fermilab Particle Accelerator. When they got there, Prince, in a drunken stupor, tripped over his blouse frills and accidentally flipped the wrong switch and they were all somehow sucked into the accelerator. When their atoms smashed together, an alternate universe was created and all four were reincarnated as a 33-year-old British guy in a kimono named Jamie Lidell.

    OK, so that’s not quite what happened, but it’s the closest thing I can get to what Lidell sounds like. Before 2005, Lidell had made a couple of trippy techno-funk albums. But with his latest release, Multiply, everything somehow came together, and he flipped everything we know about genre on its head.

    Over the past three years, Lidell has been transformed into a sort of one-man soul band. Lidell uses his producing prowess to tweak funky soul rhythms and beats out of his musical machinery. But what really makes the whole thing work is Lidell’s voice. It’s not overstating to say that it is as rich, warm and impassioned as some of the genre’s greats like Al Green and Otis Redding. It’s also hard to believe that that voice comes out of, well, a skinny British dude.

    Then throw in the Prince-style showmanship – the funky costumes and the casual-but-intense demeanor. It’s a bizarrely schizophrenic package, but Lidell somehow pulls it all together into something that’s musically fascinating, but more importantly, is really fun to dance to at parties.

    Multiplyhas all of the qualities of a classic soul record ?” it’s got catchy hooks, twangy guitars and funky bass lines. But it’s no simple throwback record: Lidell throws in this hyper-modern electronic element that give it a distinctly contemporary feel.

    One-man acts – especially electronic ones – are always difficult to pull off in a live setting. Watching someone tweak dials on a processor and pick files on their laptop isn’t exactly most people’s idea of an exciting Friday night. But Lidell manages to pull all his disparate elements together into a performance that is equal parts transfixing and fun.

    Lidell has honed a stage persona in the vein of the classic soul frontmen, which works great for the Motown-inflected tracks from Multiply, but his live performances also include lengthy electronic elaborations and digressions on the standard tracks, and Lidell’s own brand of improvisations from outer space.

    Watching Lidell perform is infectiously fun, but in seeing him live, you also get to see him create. He often creates whole songs by looping beats and sounds made using just his own voice. It can sometimes take several minutes of tweaking knobs and pushing buttons before all of the disparate sounds to come together, but when Lidell finally finds the sound he’s looking for, the result is something that borders on genius.