Review Summary: Saturday night fever with Jamiroquai...
At this point in their career, Jamiroquai don't have anything to prove anymore. Their music is timeless, many hits have become classics, plus they sell out arenas each time they tour. These achievements offer them the luxury of releasing new music at a preferred pace. Unfortunately, it's a damn slow one, because 7 years lapsed since Rock Dust Light Star
saw the light of day. Still, if this is what it takes to receive good tunes, then I'm fine with it.
After years of speculation, during which fans clung to any piece of news offered by the band members, Jamiroquai finally unveiled Automaton
, their 8th studio effort. The title track was the first taste, showcasing a retro futuristic approach delving slightly deeper than A Funk Odyssey
into electronic territory. The move is a bit surprising, since Rock Dust Light Star
felt more organic and gave hope to those who still expected a return to form (move on, post-Travelling Without Moving
Jamiroquai is a different beast), however, it also shows us Jay Kay isn't ready to rest on his laurels yet. He took a page from the Daft Punk book, applied it to his own formulas and to be honest, it sounds really pleasant. I am a big fan of their disco tunes and especially the underrated Dynamite
, who put off many fans due to the direction it took. The detached verses of 'Automaton' heavily contrast the melodic choruses, whereas the singer discusses the rise of artificial intelligence & technology all over the world and how it affects us as human beings or our relationships. Backing this sonic theme, the dance floor-ready opener, 'Shake it On' builds on sequencers and deep bass lines, on top of which Jay offers his trademark vocal delivery, often vocoded. Even though this modern twist to the old school disco was always present in their music and further developed since late '90s, here is nonchalantly displayed to full effect.
Moreover, second single, 'Cloud 9' is that typical funky Jamiroquai tune that elegantly struts in front of you. The classy keyboards and drum beats drive the song, while the guitars discreetly embellish it. Kay's voice is as smooth as it was in the '90s, but it doesn't feel like a rehash of past classics. It's a really catchy, mature display of their strengths. 'Superfresh', 'Hot Property' and 'Nights Out in the Jungle' are like the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack only envisioned by Prince. The slap bass bonanza, synth mania and clean funk guitars are the foundation to these sexy tunes. You can just picture the front man sashaying around to lure you into hours of intense dance sessions and cocaine binging. 'Nights Out in the Jungle' sounds more organic, relying on a cool bass groove and a locked drum pattern. It could've been more diverse, but they want you to shake it, not think things too much. Sandwiched by these tracks is 'Summer Girl', a sophisticated counterpart to these high octane numbers. Adding a string section to the mid-tempo melody, the song emanates the atmosphere of those hot night pool parties in '80s movies. Same goes with 'Dr Buzz', which makes good use of warm synth pads and fleshed out drumming (especially towards the end).
The party goes on with the strong 'Something About You' and the spastic 'Vitamin', showcasing the effort put into creating a cohesive and more important, fun experience. Kay's lyrics and delivery are suited for the uplifting cuts and Automaton
abounds with them. Still, I would've wanted a comedown from this all out discotheque or at least a couple of rockers to counterpoise things out. A ballad would've been nice, even though they are usually hit-and-miss, or at least an intimate moment to have an all encompassing journey. Maybe this is Jay's way to show fans that aging doesn't stop him from dancing (there's no need as he still looks 20 years younger than he actually is) or just wanted to offer something to lift their spirits. The reason why I love Dynamite
(and an example to why I find this one a bit flat) is the balance songs like 'Hot Tequila Brown', 'Tallulah', 'Seven Days in Sunny June' or 'Black Devil Car' brought to the disco/funk side. I personally wish there were some moments like those here, but then again, it's too late now to ask for that. In the end, this is a great album, perfect for a retro rave and I am happy to see the band reactivated. Hopefully, it won't take them another 7 years to release the next LP.