Pop/dance

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tim McNa­mara

Au­toma­ton Jamiro­quai EMI Few who lis­tened to 2010’s Rock Dust Light Star, Jamiro­quai’s sev­enth al­bum, could have pre­dicted it would herald six years of si­lence from the Bri­tish group, al­though some rusted-on fans main­tain the warn­ing signs were there. The al­bum’s funk-rock lean­ings were the lat­est — some would say ter­mi­nal — de­par­ture from the group’s so­cially aware grooves that first emerged on 1993 de­but al­bum Emer­gency on Planet Earth. Add front­man Jay Kay’s ad­mis­sion that he was grow­ing “tired of the busi­ness”, and it ap­peared the band that had led the emerg­ing acid jazz move­ment in the 90s along­side Brand New Heav­ies and Incog­nito had run its course. To be fair, 2010 was, to ref­er­ence a track from 1994’s Re­turn of the Space Cow­boy al­bum, light years away from Stu­art Zen­der’s snappy bass con­tri­bu­tions of the mid-90s. By the time 2001’s A Funk Odyssey dropped, line-up changes and com­mer­cial suc­cess had in­flu­enced the group’s out­put. With heavy nods to disco and funk, sin­gles Lit­tle L and Love Foo­los­o­phy, with their slick video clips, did well but re­in­forced a grow­ing di­vide be­tween Jamiro­quai’s ur­ban roots and a more pop-tinged sound. The glo­ri­ous Seven Days in Sunny June from sixth al­bum Dy­na­mite (2005) was the last me­morable hit, be­fore Rock Dust Light Star came, and quickly went. So the gid­di­ness that has greeted Jamiro­quai’s re-emer­gence has more than a lit­tle nos­tal­gia at­tached to it. The “cat in the hat” is back and, pleas­ingly, the eighth al­bum isn’t half bad. Writ­ten and pro­duced by Kay and key­boardist Matt John­son, Au­toma­ton draws in­spi­ra­tion from “the rise of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and tech­nol­ogy”. It’s a fu­tur­is­tic aes­thetic im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent on the ti­tle track, with its in­ter­ga­lac­tic crunch and in­tro rem­i­nis­cent of Gior­gio Moroder. While Kay’s inim­itable voice has re­mained front and cen­tre, it has al­ways been the band, in what­ever for­ma­tion, that has been the driv­ing force be­hind the most me­morable jams. It’s no dif­fer­ent on Au­toma­ton. Paul Turner’s bass work is sub­lime, while Rob Har­ris’s crisp gui­tar shines on sec­ond sin­gle Cloud 9 in all its smooth, sunny, fuzzy synth and disco glory. Speak­ing of disco, there’s strings aplenty and eerier synth stabs on opener Shake It On, while Some­thing About You is the al­bum stand­out, blend­ing a killer bassline with chug­ging beat and Kay’s lament­ing of love lost. Vi­ta­min chal­lenges for top spot, though, its ur­gent beat, fuzzy bass, wind­ing sax and sub­lime keys line to­wards the end mak­ing it a moody lit­tle num­ber. Dr Buzz and its theme of racial in­equal­ity in the US is a re­turn to so­cial com­men­tary for a group that brought us Too Young to Die. Kay has said in early press, “If you hear our stuff, you al­ways know it’s me.” Au­toma­ton backs this up. It’s un­mis­tak­ably Jamiro­quai, but it’s no Trav­el­ling With­out Mov­ing and, de­spite Kay’s rule to pro­duce “all killer, no filler”, a few tracks fall flat. Ul­ti­mately, though, it’s a solid ef­fort that, while nos­tal­gic, in­duces a good case of the feels.

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