When an artist’s music takes an unexpected stylistic turn – and one that takes them in a more commercial direction – it’s almost inevitable that they’ll be accused of selling out. Success on your own terms is deemed to be fine, but if you’re seen to be compromising your art in the hope that doing so will increase your sales, the knives come out.
I mention this now because I’ve recently been listening to Jamie Lidell’s latest album, Jim – a retro soul record that, particularly in this post-Winehouse climate, sounds like it could be a brazen attempt to cash-in. As you may know, Lidell began his career producing experimental dance music, but his current output sits comfortably in the mainstream.
The ‘sell-out’ issue is touched on in an interview with Lidell that was published in today’s Guardian. As the writer points out, the risk is that the new album will alienate his original fans without attracting new ones. But of course, there’s also a reasonable chance that Jim will turn out to be a hit.
And so what if it is? My own view is that Jim contains a set of great songs, and the fact that its creator used to work in a more cutting-edge but less lucrative genre means nothing to me. It certainly doesn’t sound like the work of someone who’s cynically switched gears.
And that’s surely the point: if an artist feels comfortable with the music that he or she is making, who has the right to say that they should be making something else? In my view, selling out means not being true to yourself – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with expressing different sides of your musical personality.
In creative terms, what’s far less forgivable is sticking rigidly to the same old tried and tested formula. I’m always disappointed when I discover that a band’s new album sounds almost exactly the same as their previous one.
So if Jamie Lidell is OK releasing Jim, I’m OK with it too. In fact, even if he did have an eye on the dollar when he produced it, I’d still listen. The artist’s motivation is not my primary concern – what matters is what I hear.
By Ben Rogerson