WHAT MAKES HIM A SURE THING: On his self-titled new album, the 39-year-old English soul revivalist combines an electronic foundation with Parliament-style seventies funk, the slick dance-pop of Janet Jackson producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the late-eighties New Jack Swing of Bobby Brown. "I'm proud of my 'all over the mapness,'" Lidell says. "It's who I am." The radio-ready result: a tasty brand of R&B gumbo, both retrospective and modern.
HOW HE GOT HERE: After honing his production chops in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the experimental dance-pop duo Super Collider, in 2005 Lidell released Multiply, a futuristic electro-funk mélange that propelled his honeyed falsetto into clubs everywhere (plus a Target campaign and an episode of Grey's Anatomy). His next solo effort, 2008's Jim, was a faithful gloss on 1960s Memphis soul, followed by 2010's Compass, a genre-hopping album coproduced by his longtime friend Beck.
BEHIND THE MUSIC: Two years ago, Lidell moved into a spacious three-bedroom house in Nashville with a new love interest (now his wife and manager) on the advice of the director Harmony Korine, whom he'd met at a party. There he built his dream studio full of analog synths and a vintage mixing console used for Paula Abdul's 1990 hit "Opposites Attract." "As everything gets computerized, it's kind of the equivalent of a gas-guzzling car," he says. Cruising old-school was the point, but the sound is his own. "I'm calling it Nashville house music," he says.
WHY HIS TIME IS NOW: Up-and-coming stars like Miguel (see below) and Frank Ocean have given listeners a new appetite for progressive R&B. Lidell helped draw the blueprint for a new way forward—now the fresh blood has offered him a road map for getting his groove back.
The 8 Songs He's Listening to Now:
Bona fides: Brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged (both 28) covered DeBarge at a junior-high assembly before growing up to become session musicians (Cee Lo, 50 Cent).
Latest album: The just-released No World, a steamy bedroom soundtrack full of shimmering synths, echoey finger snaps, and hushed come-hither vocals—think Janet Jackson's "Any Time, Any Place."
Bona fides: The 27-year-old singer-songwriter collaborated with contemporary R&B icon Usher and hipster-hopper Asher Roth before releasing his 2010 solo debut, All I Want Is You.
Latest album: Kaleidoscope Dream, a combination of Babyface-style production, psychedelic flourishes out of the Hendrix playbook, and vulnerable lyrics that made its debut at No. 3 on the Billboard charts last fall.
Bona fides: The Internet exploded in 2011 over 23-year-old singer-songwriter Abel Tesfaye's debut mixtape, House of Balloons, prompting Drake to use his chilly vocals on the late-night anthem "Crew Love."
Latest album: Trilogy, a three-hour compendium of the Weeknd's mixtapes that marries the dark trip-hop of Tricky with R&B influences ranging from Aaliyah to Michael Jackson.