Jamie Cullum could be awesome if he had a better voice, but the singer/instrumentalist still does a remarkable job of overcoming his vocal limitations to project charisma as he hopscotches over hyphenated genres on “The Pursuit.”
An even more diversified effort than his previous “Catching Tales” and “Twentysomething,” “The Pursuit” finds Cullum stirring his jazz forte into all manner of styles. “I’m All Over It,” for example, sounds like an artfully zesty piano-based ’70s pop hit, and closer “Music Is Through” is a surprisingly effective dance/electronica track that improbably maintains a distinctly Cullum flavor.
The British performer boldly jumps into everything he tries. He may not have a booming Sinatra voice, but he captures the Rat Pack spirit, delivering rascally lines like “It was great fun, but it was just one of those things” against brassy horn notes and rollicking piano. He also musters unlikely soul for the warm embrace of “Not While I’m Around” and a slow-cooking “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down” that escalates to a catchy boil.
“The Pursuit” has its misfires — the modern-rock-inspired “Mixtape” is merely a muddy miasma, and “Don’t Stop the Music” is awkwardly constructed so that the vocals and the keyboards sound like two different songs. Despite failed experiments, however, Cullum is usually in his element, rolling through the timeless “Wheels,” punching into the slapping beat of “You and Me Are Gone” and meditating in the resounding bass of the idealistic “If I Ruled the World”: “If I ruled the world, every man would be free as a bird.”
Yet the smartest song may be the most subtle. Cullum, in his most natural state, sings without polish against the glowing keyboard of “I Think, I Love,” resulting in something that feels like an authentic cocktail-bar experience rather than a studio-buffed facsimile.
That track suggests Cullum ought to consider a live follow-up to “The Pursuit.”
Rating (five possible): 4