There are plenty of reasons to approach Jamie Lidell's Multiply with a healthy degree of skepticism—Warp Records (home of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher) is about as likely a source of a would-be "soul" record as, say, Epitaph, and the UK's highest-profile exports in blue-eyed neo-soul have consistently underwhelmed—but Lidell's swagger, risky IDM-by-way-of-Willie-Mitchell production, and jaw-dropping vocals quickly dispel any doubts. If Multiply is all an elaborate, ironic put-on, it's executed so flawlessly that Lidell's intentions barely even matter, and he's ultimately far more innovative than Jamiroquai and far less affected than Joss Stone. As recent efforts in retro-soul go, a better comparison, perhaps, is to Sharon Jones & The DAP Kings' excellent Naturally. But while Jones and The DAP Kings are somewhat limited by their attempt to meticulously recreate a flawless '60s soul vibe, Lidell infuses his tribute to classic soul with elements of modern dance music in a way that, if not revolutionary, nonetheless sounds progressive.
The first four songs on Multiply are arguably the strongest opening sequence of the year, from the female chorus backing track of "Yougotmeup" and the impossibly catchy guitar hook of "Multiply" to the extended P-Funk rave-up of "When I Come Back Around" and "A Little Bit More," which uses a bass-rumbling vocal loop in lieu of percussion to brilliant effect. In a just world, "A Little Bit More" and "When I Come Back Around" would both be huge multiformat radio hits. Multiply loses some momentum in its second half, veering into clichéd lyrical territory on "What Is It This Time?" and "Game For Fools," but, again, the album is redeemed by Lidell's production and vocals. Though there are elements of Otis Redding in his phrasing (in the way the repeated refrain of "so tired" on the title track is slurred to "soultied"), Lidell's voice most often recalls a hybrid of Terence Trent D'Arby and CCR-era John Fogerty, a ragged and world-weary but still perfectly controlled instrument.
Lidell's reputation for spectacular, lunatic live shows suggests that Multiply may only hint at his capability, which is impressive indeed for an album that, in its best moments, draws comparisons to at-peak Prince and, at its worst, lands in the respectable company of Nikka Costa's Everybody Got Their Something. It's hard to imagine what Warp's post-IDM demographic might make of Multiply, but it's an album fully deserving of finding a massive fanbase across multiple genres of more mainstream pop.