I'm a Question Mark

Multiply by Jamie Lidell

I had already posted a review of Multiply, but upon rereading (I am an over-analyzing perfectionist bordering on OCD, which results in my rereading every blog post six or seven times after I've written it) I found so many flaws that I simply could not ignore it anymore.

Motown is really one of the few genres I grew up on that I will actually admit to (if some indie kid asks me what I used to listen to as a kid, I almost die of embarrassment saying P Diddy and Destiny's Child -- believe me, it wasn't my fault! I didn't know any better! And if that doesn't appease you: My sister made me do it!) My dad was the one who introduced us to it; while we waited in the parking lot to pick up my mom from work, he'd turn on the radio to the oldies station (which unfortunately recently has gone off the air). As a child these songs left an indelible mark on my memory; I was a lovesick child waiting for my mom in the middle of the night (in reality only about an hour and a half past my bedtime, but back then it might as well have been midnight), and these songs soundtracked my wait. Not only that: their effortless joy made waiting that much better, the nonsense rhymes and upbeat hand claps and snappy rhythms were all that kept me from becoming an impatient grump.

So later on in life, when I had to digest imitations of my childhood favorites, I found it an altogether scarring experience. There's only so many times you can hear someone mutilate a song before you have pronounced in your mind that the genre is dead -- imitators had taken these songs and instead of breathing new life they had murdered it, buffed it to a disgusting over-produced, marketable sheen and sold it for their own personal profit.

Not that Motown itself was ever a musician's idealist dream; if anything, it would be an artist's worst nightmare. Motown labels took amazingly talented young musicians and had them bang out hit after hit, one meaningless, love-fluff song after the next. Not to mention the rampant plagiarism with copyright laws for songs pretty much nonexistent.

But even despite of this nightmare, we had shining lights, such as Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, or Marvin Gaye in the late sixties and early seventies. There is something to be said even of the recording quality; without the interference of technology to make voices sickeningly perfect, singers were necessarily amazing. The emotional levels in most Motown songs isn't something you can autotune, which necessarily makes Motown music something completely different from modern soul groups or modern R&B derivatives of Motown.

When I first listened to Jamie Lidell's album, I was immediately shocked, confused, and bordering on enraged. I thought that someone had played a cruel prank and mislabeled the album, giving me instead some crappy rip off on Motown music. But after checking, and double checking, it turned out that that really was the album. So I tried to listen to it with an open mind.

And I was blown away. Jamie Lidell does an amazing job of not just venerating his antecedents, but also irreverently taking artistic liberties that I would imagine his antecedents had only dreamed of back in the 60s. Prior to the release of Multiply, Lidell had mainly been Warp's "solo laptop artist", working with electronic music and struggling to find his voice. And he found it: several times in the album Lidell finds himself singing, "it's the new me coming through" (in fact, there is a song called "New Me"). It's precisely this genuine embrace of the genre that lends itself to a type of quality that sets it apart from other imitators or people who attempt to resurrect the genre.

Most noticeable is Lidell's free use of electronic glitches, tweaks and looping that begs the question, if Motown's boon had been today, would this be what it sounded like? It's the blurring of these two different musical spheres that Lidell so successfully achieves that makes the album worth listening to. Lidell also does a good job of being true to the genre -- not forcing himself to make a new sound and be sucked into a cliche gimmick. Tracks like "Multiply" and "You Got Me Up" are straightforward, showing that Lidell can be as soulful as the best of them, while "A Little Bit More" and "When I Come Back Around" introduce us to Lidell's artistry.

The album as a whole is surprising; the songs are snappy enough to make you nod your head, but the lyrics are personal and honest enough to connect with. Lidell definitely shows his more vulnerable side, though he is ambiguous enough that the lyrics can be applied to any number of things. Though I will never embrace imitators of Motown music, Lidell's work has eased my past traumatic experiences.

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