With Jamiroquai, nostalgia and futurism are synonymous. Their latest album, Automaton, their first for seven years, plants itself in an Argos-sized catalogue of influence, fed by the string-laden disco of Giorgio Moroder and inspiring the innovation of pop chameleons Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. Automaton‘s real intelligence is born from its subtle, but noticeable tweak to the tried and proven formulae of past releases. It remains an inherently Jamiroquai record, complete with pealing strings and alchemised funk but the heavy electronic touch shifts the ’90s acid jazz collective into the 21st Century with a brutish shove.
The two preemptive singles, title track ‘Automaton’ and ‘Cloud 9’, are indicative of that balance. ‘Automaton’ is pleasingly brave, colliding a restless synthscape with the chorus’ twinkling disco wonderland. But ‘Cloud 9’s’ pure glide is much more akin to the Jamiroquai of old, as Jay Kay’s charismatic croon sits atop meticulous layers of Nile Rodgers-esque guitar lines and a gold-encrusted synths ripped from a thousand delectable ’80s smash hits.
But as good as ‘Cloud 9’ is, Jamiroquai are at their best on Automaton when they get a little freaky. The punchy bassline of ‘Hot Property’ bleeds into a wonderfully weightless video game-style synthline, whilst the distorted disco dream of ‘Dr Buzz’ provides a rare soft touch on Automaton complete with a sprawling horn solo. Instead of his usual array of striking headgear, frontman Jay Kay now sports an illuminated headpiece resembling a porcupine. It’s indicative of the album as a whole; even as Jamiroquai begin to fall back into classic tropes, the glistening electronica returns to reassure a continued march into the future. If you’re not fond of the analogue touch that courses through Automaton there are some classic Jamiroquai cuts for the purists. ‘We Can Do It’ spookily scats away at mid-tempo whilst Jay Kay retraces the infatuation of ‘Cosmic Girl’ and ‘Little L’ on ‘Summer Girl’.
Overall, the endless pool of sounds and artists that can fit into the sound on not just Automaton, but the band’s previous records too, blur those individual distinctions so much that Jamiroquai’s cultivation becomes a unique sub-genre all of its own. Here, Jamiroquai take great artistic and thematic freedom in the manipulation of Automaton. It’s a record that stays true to the cosmic glory of the band’s early years but also keeps pace with the electro-pop trendsetters that have surfaced in the band’s absence. That heavy electronic touch may suggest that Jamiroquai are changing in accordance with the encroachment of technology, but if we were to compare title track ‘Automaton’ with the band’s dystopian seminal track ‘Virtual Insanity’, Jamiroquai’s vision hasn’t changed; they’ve just become more comfortable with the advancement of technology. And that notion is key to Automaton‘s success. Even in a nearly unrecognisable landscape to the one that they were born into, Jamiroquai manage to assimilate easily without sacrificing the cornerstones of their angular jazz-funk infusions.
Images courtesy of The London Standard