On previous solo work such as 2000's Muddlin Gear and in his Super_Collider collaborations with Cristian Vogel, Jamie Lidell has essayed a sort of fractured electronic funk music in which his impassioned soul vocals are treated to just as many digital alterations and disruptions as the glitch-electronica which furnishes the backings. The results have been both fascinating and frustrating, offering sometimes thrilling glimpses of genuinely innovative future possibilities for pop, but almost perversely confounding those possibilities with his determination to attack the music on a structural level, throwing beats and melodies off-kilter until a song has all but dismantled itself.
What, then, has prompted the change behind Multiply, an album which eschews his earlier experimentalist attitude in favour of a more straightforward approach involving proper instruments, settled song structures, and mostly untreated vocals? Where the likes of Sun Ra and Squarepusher influenced his previous work, the touchstones for this project are clearly Prince and earlier funk masters such as Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder. The burbling clavinet and urgent, biting vocal recall the latter on "When I Come Back Around" - although Wonder's smooth, natural grooves were never as cluttered and jagged as this.
The title track shifts from a neat little African-style guitar intro into a swampy Southern funk groove that recalls the Muscle Shoals' heyday. "I'm so tired of repeating myself/Beating myself up," sings Lidell - then ironically proceeds to repeat the phrase "so tired" over and over, like Al Green on "Beware". But he's obviously enthused about his new direction, claiming "New me's coming through/Gotta get myself together" in "Newme". Elsewhere, "Music Will Not Last" is a kind of electronic doo-wop funk, while "What Is It This Time?" indulges a slower, piano- and organ-driven R&B enquiry.
Lidell is most clearly indebted to Prince for the falsetto soul vocal manner he employs on tracks such as "A Little Bit More" and "What's The Use?", with the latter's stealthy groove incorporating the album's most ambitious arrangement, an ingenious jazz-funk stew of electric piano, jazz guitar, trumpet, banked vocal harmonies and disruptive drum-fill interjections that sound like a hangover from his earlier methods.
It's hard to spot the market niche that might accommodate a maverick talent like Lidell's, but Multiply is better equipped than any of his previous projects to slip past the conformity police and find a decent-sized audience, without compromising his essential idiosyncrasy. As he asserts in "What's The Use?", "I'm a walkin' talkin' question mark", before adding, "But what is the question again?"