Jamiroquai, probably best known as the band with the “moving floors” music video that won the group several MTV Music Awards way back in 1997, just released their seventh album, Rock Dust Light Star.
The band, unfairly best known in the USA for that thirteen-year old music video (for Virtual Insanity) and a corny dance sequence in Napoleon Dynamite, has been going at it for a while now, and the musical progression shines through on Rock Dust Light Star.
This is the first Jamiroquai release since 2005’s Dynamite, and let’s just say that the product was well worth the wait between records.
Frontman/singer/songwriter, Jay Kay (or Jason Kay if you’re not into rhyming nicknames) has always been the most identifiable aspect of the band; in fact, most times I’ve ever heard someone discuss Jamiroquai the project is usually referred to as “him” or “that guy”. I guess his image overwhelms the “band” aspect of the Jamiroquai name.
On Rock Dust Light Star, though, it’s more than evident that this is a group effort. The title track kicks things off with a jarring record scratch, before leading into a silky smooth keyboard-driven jam. It’s somewhat less attention-grabbing than other album openers like Feels Just Like It Should and Canned Heat, but it sets the mood for this album perfectly, mostly due to its velvety bass line and lush beeps and chords.
The opening track segues into White Knuckle Ride, the first single. This tune is much more familiar Jamiroquai territory, with the disco-stomp and neo-soul funk turned up to twelve. At first, I wasn’t sure about this song, as its overall feel was one of “yeah, I’ve heard this before” from the band, but on repeated listens it gets better, due in part to another stellar bass line and the cascading dancefloor synth whirls and twirls. The song has a million different dance remixes already, and for good reason.
Smoke and Mirrors sounds like something Jamiroquai would have made in the mid to late 1990s, around the time of underappreciated albums like Synkronized. Jay Kay sings over a bass line until some sweet horns kick in and the song takes off. The addition of the horns really gives the tune a 1970s vibe, almost as if it’s a James Brown cover or something sextastic like that.
Hurtin’, with its thick riff, reverb, and apostrophe, sounds more like The Black Keys than you’d expect to hear on an album like this. Jay Kay employs a rougher, less squeaky-clean voice on this one, and it accentuates the dirty, bluesy guitar exquisitely, as does the chorus of “How the hell did I lose ya??”, sung from the perspective of a lover scorned. Because of its sheer willingness to go down a different path, Hurtin’ is one of the album’s brightest (and most creative) moments.
The rest of the disc spans different styles and tempos, Blue Skies taking the “slow epic ballad” spot, Lifeline the “orchestral, piano-flavored jam”.
By the time the album reaches She’s a Fast Persuader, the listener is reminded that Jay Kay & Friends aren’t funkin’ around with this one. The song’s slamming lead guitar, somewhat reminiscent of Steve Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen, combined with Jay Kay’s echoed vocals, nasty bass, and ethereal keyboards make this song arguably one of Jamiroquai’s best in years. It’s got attitude, it’s got a killer hook, and there’s just no way you can listen to it without moving some part of your body. It’s just so…slick.
Two Completely Different Things, a tale from the point of view of a discontent lover, revisits the same kind of summer outdoorsy feeling as Seven Days in Sunny June (from Dynamite).
Goodbye to My Dancer is another key track on the album, with Jay Kay singing another breakup-ish song (seeing a theme here?) set to some sad-sounding guitars and keys. It’s another song filled with melancholy, something Jamiroquai usually does pretty well.
The album comes to an end with Hey Floyd, led by some tribal-sounding bongo drums. This one sounds like it’s the result of some jamming in the studio, as it has an organic, easy feeling to it. It then morphs into a powerful instrumental break, before switching to reggae. The vocals sound almost improvised, and that lends the song its organic tone. The song sounds like it would be a good candidate for a delicious extended jam in the band’s live show.
By the time Hey Floyd comes to a close, it’s obvious Jamiroquai still have a lot to say, musically. The band recorded somewhere around 40 songs for this album, and while only 12 (or 15, depending on which release of the album you have) made the cut, it’s apparent that the band is in a creative revival.
Dynamite was a good record, but Rock Dust Light Star blows it away.
The 12 songs on this record pack so much funky, passionate neo-disco soul funk jazz into one album it should come with a warning.
It’s too bad this hasn’t been released stateside yet, but that’s no excuse to not hear it. You owe it to yourself to seek it out, by whatever means necessary (and then buy it when it’s released on some label here sometime next year).
It’ll funk you up.