From the funky IDM of his debut Muddlin Gear, to the throwback textures of 2008’s Jim, Jamie Lidell has been picking at his pocket for the past few years, but can’t quite inhabit it for one entire album’s worth of time. This jittery proclivity has not wavered on his fourth record, Compass.
However, when he sings, “Now I know the only compass that I need is the one that leads back to you” on the title track, one does wonder who he’s addressing as his latest effort’s ken of the fun and forlorn is colored with an element we’ve grown to dismiss from Lidell: candor. The opening two songs, ‘Completely Exposed’ and ‘Your Sweet Boom,’ exhibit his willingness to bare the person behind the persona, donning a sweeping groove and crunchy arrangements to adorn a torrid voice, which now sits closer to impassioned than imitative. Scrappy and sentimental, these are brilliant tunes.
Unfortunately, Lidell second-guesses his sincerity later in the affair, retreating under the skin of sterile swagger (‘I Wanna Be Your Telephone’ and ‘The Ring’), casual Caribbean-ish rhythm (‘Enough’s Enough’), and prominent knob-twiddling (‘You Are Waking’). Studio wizardry is a hit-or-miss business – obstructing music’s expressive energy or opening it up – and Lidell isn’t partial to either side. Where the heart of ‘Coma Chameleon’ is smothered in digitized effects, the bizarre slow burn of ‘It’s A Kiss’ is a sinuous standout; feathery synths and treated vocals translate the human condition in touching alien terms.
Compass marks a new beginning. It is certainly not the first notch on this singer’s belt, though it is the first to outline the right fit to some degree. At the very least, Lidell is no longer nodding toward the souls of others – he’s begun to divulge his own.
Score: 6.4 / 10