Jamie Lidell’s “Compass”

“Compass could be a pretty good album for back-up music if you’re working. It’s trying to sound raw and ugly-pretty, but it’s edited to the point of complete chaos.” -Sarah Bates

Guest Writer

out of 10

Jamie Lidell
May 18, 2010
Warp Records

I love Jamie Lidell. He has one of the best voices I’ve heard in a long, long time. It’s strong, capable and memorable. I first heard Lidell in 2008 on a sampler. “Another Day” knocked me off my feet… or onto my feet, perhaps. Jamie Lidell’s smooth timbre mixed with the song’s gospel, finger-snapping tune had me tapping my toes and humming along before it even finished. I told my friends they should use it for their wedding. It’s a poppy, clap along, bird-twittering, feel-good, dancy people kind of song, and everyone I’ve shown it to has started snapping along almost immediately upon listening to it.

Suffice to say, I jumped at the chance to not only hear more of Jamie Lidell, but to review an entire album of his work. Compass was put in my hands a week ago and I’ve been struggling to figure out just how I felt about it ever since. It is not what I was expecting and I’m, well, I’m let down. Jamie Lidell has a smooth as butter voice and Compass left me wanting more of it… not because I got a taste and craved more, but because the reverb, playback, deconstruction and general noise got in the way. I was psyched for something I didn’t get. I was ready to hear an album full of Lidell’s soulful voice and I didn’t get what I wanted. Call me a pouty child, so what?

Compass is raw. It’s soulful… but Lidell is not utilizing himself to the fullest. Compass has been called more eclectic, but it’s less “Oh, how interesting and eclectic,” and more “Pick a theme already and stick with it.” I’ve heard Jamie Lidell sing, and I wanted to hear an album of him singing, and not being smothered by the overlay of drum beats, heavily edited voice distortions, and an amalgamation of other unidentifiable noises. The first track immediately reminded me of Lauryn Hill and perhaps Gnarls Barkley. There was a definite R&B undertone, but there was also so much dissonance. I’ll be the first to admit that dissonance often works, but in the case of Compass, it was, at times, just noise.

There are really beautiful melodies, lovely guitar riffs worked in, well-planned drums. There are also parts where they’ve piled on one too many layers and I’d rather just have the raw version of Lidell singing a la Jay-Z’s a cappella The Black Album. Compass was a turn off for me. I had to force myself to finish the album on the first play through, and I was honestly relieved it was over. I listened to it a few days later, and am listening to it again as I’m writing this. It’s not bad, it’s just not my thing, especially “She Needs Me.” If I wanted a 70s song about love-making, I’d go out and buy a 70s album about love-making.

Reading up on Lidell and sampling his 2008 album Jim tells me I didn’t set my expectations too far out of range. Jim has the wider breadth of soul mixed with gospel that I expected from Jamie Lidell. And okay, so I wasn’t totally disappointed with Compass. “Enough’s Enough” reminded me so much of little Michael Jackson and early Motown that I had to look it up and see if it sampled a Jackson 5 song I didn’t know about. This song was exactly what I was looking for from Jamie Lidell going into this review.

Compass could be a pretty good album for back-up music if you’re working. It’s trying to sound raw and ugly-pretty, but it’s edited to the point of complete chaos. It’s layer upon layer of noise, reverb, and edits, with Lidell’s voice working through as the common thread. I’m glad I heard Compass and gave it a try, but I’m going to buy Jim and actually satiate my Jamie Lidell craving now.