It’s been six years since Jamiroquai last filled our airwaves with new material. In 2017 it would seem like the table’s set for their unique blend of acid jazz and funk to make a return. Since Jay Kay and co.’s last outing, the latter’s made quite the resurgence. Daft Punk, Pharrell and Nile Rodgers strutted about our screens like it was 1978 again, Kendrick reintroduced everyone to George Clinton and even more mainstream acts like Robbie Williams and Kygo have jumped aboard the funk train.
Twenty-one years on from the band’s dystopian smash-hit single, Virtual Insanity though and Kay’s still disillusioned by the digital age, commenting on the titular Automaton that; “The inspiration for Automaton is in recognition of the rise of artificial intelligence and technology in our world today and how we as humans are beginning to forget the more pleasant, simple and eloquent things in life and in our environment including our relationship with one another as human beings.”
This is nothing new of course. Sure, just this year Radiohead celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their magnum opus, ‘Ok Computer’. Nevertheless it is interesting to listen to this very real issue with fresh ears, not least when it’s as catchy as this.
The irony of course is that Jamiroquai sound as intergalactic as ever on ‘Automaton’. This could perhaps be a response to Giorgio Moroder’s return to everyone’s thoughts or the burgeoning popularity of Brainfeeder’s cosmic jazz. But don’t label Jamiroquai bandwagon-hopping just yet. ‘Automaton’ retains all the components that made the band famous in the first place-the breezy falsetto, the groovy staccato rhythms, the violin accompaniments-while building upon this sound in their own idiosyncratic way.
The album kicks into gear with Shake it On amid charging yet patient synthwork, Daft Punkesque bleeps, and joyous backing vocals. What follows is just under an hour of delectable nu-funk that captures Jay Kay finding positivity against a break-up on Cloud 9, grovelling over a woman on Summer Girl and describing all the different personalities you find on a night out on Nights Out in the Jungle. Among the people we encounter on ‘Automaton’, an object of affection who “sips her limoncello…” who Kay tells us is “going to take a special fellow to melt that icy queen” and girls with “uptown chic and downtown fear”.
There’s not much change in the way of stylistic direction here although for the most part that doesn’t matter. Jamiroquai have a reputation for being kitschy at times. But the fact of the matter is that they produce infectious shimmery tunes. Of course, some are more memorable than others, not least the aforementioned Nights Out in the Jungle that, with its hip-hop scratches and borderline rapping finds Kay channelling his inner emcee. But more often than not, ‘Automaton’ strikes gold. Never one to shy away from eccentric production value, Jay Kay even deploys bells and saxophone during the album.
Yes, Jamiroquai are often kitschy. But you can always count on them to bring just enough sass and pizzazz to keep things interesting without-for use of a better term, over-egging the pudding. Here’s hoping they bring this sass and pizzazz to Ireland this summer!