May 17, 2010 Web Exclusive
After the perfectly polished soul of 2008's Jim, it appeared that Jamie Lidell's transition from button-pushing R&B man to soulful big-band leader was complete. This time, with the help of a few friends (Feist, Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear, Gonzales, Pat Sansone of Wilco, and Beck), Lidell is once again roughing up the expected formula. However, both unapologetically sex-drenched, and featuring the occasional bout of weirdness not seen since Raw Digits, his 2002 side-project with Super_Collider, Compass occasionally drifts too far, its coordinates everywhere at once.
While sultry mid-tempo ballads work—as attested by anthem to sexual-tension "It's a Kiss"—Lidell's cocksure persona falters when he tries to slow it down, a trick that does not automatically equate to "soulful." While previous attempts at stripped-down slow songs, such as Jim's "Rope of Sand," have demonstrated untapped vulnerability, the slower tracks on Compass could have been deleted with no thematic repercussions, particularly dim closer, "You See My Light." He does attempt to resuscitate the title-track with a funky mid-bridge breakdown, but it isn't enough to save "Compass" from its fate as a Richie Havens knock-off.
Lidell finds his true north when tapping into his weirder impulses, dirtying up archetypical soul arrangements with crunchy guitars, squealing brass, and vocal modulation. Occasionally, innovation distracts from introspection, as conversely proven by the album's most emotionally monotone and musically straightforward track, "Gypsy Blood." Other times it's indulgent—most flagrant offender "Your Sweet Bloom" dies early under a bevy of layers that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. But the bizarre tics and "everyone in" mentality of such tracks as "Completely Exposed," "The Ring," and cheesy metaphor-heavy "I Wanna Be Your Telephone," are fun served raw. In an album unified by a sense of relentless movement, the highlights prove that when Lidell finds a singular, party-starting direction, he's unstoppable. (www.jamielidell.com)
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 8/10