If ever there was a Godfather of UK Soul, few would deny the right of Omar Lye-Fook to hold the title. In fact, the biggest contention is likely to be that “soul” is too limiting a term to define the music range of this undisputed legend.
Since 1991, Omar has blessed us all with consistent quality; 20 years and seven albums in, he shows no signs of losing either authenticity or innovation. The quintessential artists-artist, Omar has the uncanny ability to not only be original but evolve within his originality, developing on a style that is distinctly his own. While following none of the popular trends that define the current climate, his music always seems to remain fresh and relevant. Omar does not try to “appeal to the kids”, but somehow manages to impact every generation, often providing the necessary inflections to break the monotony.
His last album “Sing If You Want To…” (2006), was a resounding success and formidable follow up to the highly acclaimed “Best By Far”. Ever since, dance floors have not stop rocking to the sounds of “It’s So”, earning the worldwide embrace of ambassadors for UK Funky, while strictly speaking, not belonging to the genre. Amidst the fast pace, ephemeral nature of today’s hot-for-the-moment culture, here is a legend that makes music to last.
While many ardent appreciators may bemoan an apparent lack of vision on the part of record companies in promoting such an artist, industry woes have never affected his output. So after a seven-year hiatus, the June 2013 release of Omar’s 7th album, “The Man”, was greeted by sighs of relief and anticipation. True to form, the Godfather has not failed us.
A string quartet accompanies that familiar voice, perfectly announcing his return as the album gets started with “Simply”. As though to present a beautiful paradox, this declaration of love carries a depth unfamiliar to your Top 10 chart hits. The live band accompaniment simultaneously tunes the ear and piques interest for what is on offer.
In truth, this album gives us the best of Omar with just that little bit more. A fact which aptly signifies the apparent theme throughout this album – Maturity! This ideal is best expressed by the title track “The Man”, in which Omar addresses the distorted perception of Manhood as he reflects:
“I’m thinking ‘bout some things I’ve done when I was so wild. Some things that I should not have done just trying to be the man”
The reflection concludes in the contentment of discarding such perceptions in order to“become a man” in the process. The theme is well expanded upon as Omar implores you to “Come and Speak to Me” – a song specially catering for the lyrically inclined. Well placed use of a double base adds thickness to this otherwise masterfully minimalist musical arrangement, providing a nice taste of the ambiguity of genre we have come to know and love from this innovator.
Omar is well known for discovering uncharted synergy between musical styles and it is this that makes “Bully” one of the standout tracks on this album. “Bully” comprises life lessons imparted over a riddim that may best be described as Ragga-Jazz. Accompanied by the turntable skills of sibling Scratch Professor, here is a tune that may inspire one or two rewinds before you can move forward with what is to come.
Once the wheel-an-come-again moment subsides, the legend that is Caron Wheeler (of Soul II Soul) appears for the aptly entitled “Treat You”. The attentive will recognise the basic elements of this arrangement from “Lift Off”, the intro-track for “Sing If You Want To”, providing a welcomed completed version for one of the many snippets of grooves sprinkled throughout Omar’s albums.
Then we have “F**k War Make Love”. A Philly Soul intro evolves into unadulterated infectious FUNK, accented by the defiant lyric “I don’t wanna play by your rules- Nothing to gain, nothing to lose”. Merging self reflection & social commentary, the vocal is so smooth that you have to actually read the track listing before you realise he used an expletive.
“High Heels” is an experimental Jazz piece that provides a refreshing take on my girl likes to party all the time theme – another standout moment. And while many would advise against redoing what is already a close to perfect song, Omar gets away with it as he presents a reprise of his timeless classic “There’s Nothing Like This”. Beautifully embellished by horn & string arrangements, the 20th anniversary of its release is celebrated in fitting style.
The 2 step massive are well catered for with “When You Touch We Touch”, right before Omar summarises the thread that ties this body of work together, providing a glimpse into what has inspired the strong sense of focus and maturity emphatically evident through “The Man”;
“…. Now that I got 2 babies of my own, gives me purpose learning to teach the way right. How can I be useful to show the way to the light…”
Fatherhood has definitely had a positive impact on Omar artistry, giving birth to what is undoubtedly one his strongest, most cohesive releases to date. The importance of his life developments placed centre stage as the 1st page to the album inlay features the father of twins surrounded by his family. The album itself allows you to feel this growth, and wills you to bask in it with Omar himself.
“There’s Nothing Like This” is not just the title of Omar’s debut album, it is the phrase that best describes his artistry. And with this fine addition to an already prolific catalogue, one thing is certain, Omar Lye-Fook is most definitely “The Man”.