Wednesday, March 3, 2010 | 6:15 p.m.
It looks like Lady Gaga got to Jamie Cullum’s piano while his back was turned. That’s a baby grand blowing up behind him on the cover of The Pursuit, the genre-jumping fourth studio album from the English jazz-pop imp. The cover image is an apt one, as Cullum energetically sets to demolishing and rebuilding a dozen songs, from a drastically slowed-down take on Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” to a stark rendering of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway ballad “Not While I’m Around.”
A piano-punishing multi-instrumentalist, Cullum is also known for his trademark stompbox percussion, and he’s acclaimed more as a live performer than as a recording artist. On Pursuit, he appears intent on biting some of Michael Buble’s U.S. box office, covering all bases by expanding into big band and breakbeat. I don’t see that level of pop-star success happening for him over here, though. Cullum’s voice, with its carefully calibrated sore-throat graininess, would be well-suited for a Vegas venue, a la Matt Goss. But on record at least, his vocals are stagey and mannered—what Simon Cowell would call “a little bit cabaret.”
Pursuit impresses with its tricked-out arrangements and production, but Cullum’s hyper singing style seems pitched more to a showroom audience. Maybe a proper live album will do the trick for him.