At a time when platinum sales and chart position remain the most popular barometer for which to measure an artist's success, the ever-elusive longevity continues to be the toughest to predict. Over and over again, countless artists have traveled the bumpy descent from the top of the musical charts with RIAA plaques adorning their walls to having no label to call home and a fan base that disperses in the blink of an eye. However, a select few have managed to craft careers that span multiple decades while also amassing an ardent following that waits patiently for new music and live appearances. Count British soulster Omar Lye-Fook as part of that exclusive club.
Over the course of his 20+ year career, he's cultivated a loyal following that's faithfully stood by for his seventh studio album, The Man, which features guest appearances from singer Carol Wheeler, former Jamiroquai bassist Stuart Zender and Scratch Professer. The album is his first following a seven-year hiatus during which he celebrated several career and personal milestones, including crossing the 40-year-old threshold, dabbling in acting, being appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his service in music and becoming a father to twin girls. The latter takes center stage throughout the album as Omar wholeheartedly embraces his role as family man. While love and all of its highs and lows have always served as overarching themes on his previous albums, The Man reveals a contentedly settled man who revels in his new responsibilities.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the album's title track where we find Omar singing about the false posturing of what he thought being a man was in his younger years and the self-actualization and clarity that has come along with maturity. "Ordinary Day" also delves into the newfound sense of purpose that his life has taken on now that he has a wife and kids of his own. With its uptempo samba-inspired beat, the song paints a sunny picture that's sure to brighten the day of anybody in hearing range.
As with his past albums, he expertly weaves together various musical styles with such fluidity that it's sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly which style you're listening to. Though dipping into so many sounds could easily come across as cluttered and unfocused for an artist of a lesser caliber, in Omar's hands it sounds as if they were meant to unite as one from the start. "When You Touch We Touch" sends listeners straight to the Caribbean with its steel drums and throbbing beat that could easily be right at home on any dancehall lover's playlist. Meanwhile, "I Can Listen" has its roots entrenched in the soulfully blended harmonies and grooves of early Motown. "High Heels," featuring the Hidden Jazz Orchestra, strikes a balance somewhere between blues and funk as Omar faces suspicions about a lover's possible dalliances. Although the song is anything but being strictly jazz, hints of it do creep in by way of well-placed drum breaks and a saxophone solo that perfectly encompasses the topsy-turvy emotions that often accompany being stepped out on.
One of the album's brightest moments takes place on the oldie-but-goodie, "There's Nothing Like This." Originally released over 23 years ago on his debut album of the same name back in 1990, Omar gets a little assistance from legendary bassist Pino Palladino on this reworked, stripped-down version. Almost a quarter of a century later, Omar's vocals remain just as crystal clear as before, proving that the passage of time has done little to diminish the voice that has kept fans coming back for more and more again.
Overall, the album is a solid release that takes the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" to heart. While he does little in the way of breaking away from what we've come to expect from him, Omar still somehow manages to come across as fresh and new, possibly because he was always light years ahead of everyone else since the beginning. And for that, The Man and the happier, mature Omar that it showcases proves why he's an artist worth waiting for.