I’d like to start off by stating that I love the funk. If it’s dripping somewhere, I’ll sniff it out and drown myself in that stuff. From Lee Dorsey through to The Bamboos and every slippy alleyway in between, I’ll soak it up and get down faster than a chubby kid on a see saw. I’ve always rated Jamiroquai, and after the death of George Michael I think he’s one of the last great British pop stars pre the reality TV star nonsense. He can sing – he can dance and he’s had the odd run in with a few journalists and was one of my ‘go to’ artists when I was DJ’ing in a new bar. If they didn’t dance to ‘Space Cowboy’, then I knew it would be a long night.
Earlier this year, Jamiroquai had released a video for the title track off his new album Automaton, the first new track in seven years from the British pop star. Jay Kay looked good and could still move, I never doubted that would be any different, and his voice was still strong, sure why wouldn’t it be? But was this a new direction sound wise? If so I wasn’t happy. I just didn’t get it. The chorus was great but all this EDM stuff going on all over it didn’t fill me with much hope for the new album. This wasn’t a Dylan goes electric / electro moment, far from it, but when Jay Kay can produce some of the sweetest funk so pure and with more bounce than Philip Green’s chequebook.
Then not long after we were treated to ‘Cloud 9’, a straight up fun funktastic throwback to the days where we all fell in love with Jamiroquai. Sexy video, sexy cars, Jay Kay dancing to funky grooves and a chorus so catchy Hope Solo was tweeting about it. This was more like it, a solid groove drenched in sexy funk, and this is what will get you excited for the album. Hopefully Automaton would make more sense in the makeup or concept that the new album is all about because ‘Cloud 9’ is head and shoulders (and trademark hat) above Automaton.
Jamiroquai really spans a number of genres on this release and this creates an uneasy listen. The 4 to the floor opener of ‘Shake It On’ is disco funk of exceptional quality, but with it being followed by ‘Automaton’ it gives the album an overall electronica-driven feel. It’s not until ‘Cloud 9’ comes to life and you get the feeling your best mate has just entered the party with a bag of feel good classics. The next few tracks have a heavy disco funk feel but it’s Jay Kay’s flirtations with EDM that pushes the album away from it being a funky groove thang we all know Jamiroquai are masters of. ‘Hot Property’ proves this point, it’s dripping with the funk. The same can be said about ‘Something About You’ – these are the tracks that should define the album and are the tracks I will return to when I want to remember Automaton.
‘Nights Out in the Jungle’ has an old school hip hop influence, I can see remixes a plenty for this one featuring some familiar voices we all wished were still slamming vinyls. Its fun and playful just like ‘We Can Do It’ and gives the album much needed breathing space.
The album closes with a beautiful heartfelt song about his daughter, a moment of pure honesty that Jay Kay thought long and hard about. The last thing he wanted was for her to turn around in years to come and say, ‘you wrote that, for me?’
Overall, Automaton is a confusing album as an entity. On a personal note I feel that if Jamiroquai focused on bringing the funk back rather than pushing it forward Automaton would be a far superior album, the electronica influences make a mess of what could have been a funktastic comeback. There are some massive tunes here, worth buying the album for, but there are a few tracks I wouldn’t mind not hearing ever again. This puts me off buying the album on vinyl, my preferred mode of transport.