26 June, 2013 in Music Reviews
The man once dubbed the father of British of neo soul is back with a new LP on Freestyle Records
hat’s right, it’s the Omar Christopher Lye-Fook MBE you’ll no doubt remember being responsible for the 1991 neo soul classic that was There’s Nothing Like This. The single reached the Top 20 then, and he’s back a couple of decades later returning to a similar soulful R&B vibe, polished and packaged up for 2013. The thing is it doesn’t feel like being transported back to the 90s… it feels like being back in 1965.
Straddling genres from Latin to soulful jazz, The Man doffs its proverbial cap to classic Motown – equal measures of Stevie Wonder (who Omar has worked with) and Marvin Gaye – with the intro to I Can Listen sounding like it could break into The Four Tops’ My Girl at any moment. There’s also a dash of modern R&B à la Jill Scott and, stretching the cocktail metaphor a little further, possibly even a paper umbrella in the shape of Morcheeba.
Omar’s voice certainly hasn’t lost its warmth over the years and, although it doesn’t quite put him in the premier league of great vocalists, it’s reassuringly smooth and dynamic enough to hold interest. However, despite the curious titles making an effort to demonstrate some passion – see the Stevie Wonder-esque jazz of F**k War, Make Love, for example – Omar’s vocal parts can at times come across like ‘first take’ guide vocals, in terms of both lyrics and performance. Ironically, it’s Come On Speak To Me that’s the least coherent.
Minor vocal irritations aside, The Man is a triumph of arrangement and impeccable musicianship. Omar’s band make light work of the vast majority of the diverse tracks on the LP, and when the Hidden Jazz Quartet lend a hand on High Heels in 6/8, it all steps up a gear.
Putting aside the blatant comparisons, The Man‘s redeeming feature is its sunny disposition, which seeps through the pore of almost every song, especially when the Latin flavours start flowing. The reggae-bounce of Bully, featuring the Scratch Professor, meanwhile, is reminiscent of prime Finlay Quaye; as Omar sings in the title track, “It’s like walking in sunshine”
So when the sun finally comes out, grab The Man, make yourself a mojito and enjoy.
Verdict: A solid collection of beautifully produced new songs that will lift the dreariest of summers