“The Return Of The Space Cowboy” is the second album released by British Acid Jazz Funk Group Jamiroquai.
This album was a departure from the more clean 70’s influenced funk style from the debut set “Emergency On Planet Earth” but offers a much more diverse take at Funk and Soul music. The soul music element is apparent throughout many of the tracks and Jamiroquai do not get much love from the Soul music crowd for their work when the songs are a supreme take on alternative soul music without having to bow to Hip Hop as being the only course one can take when moving Soul music forward.
Of all six Jamiroquai albums this is my favourite because there is so much to sink your teeth into. Lyrically the album is slightly bizarre but when you take into account the amount of drug use lead singer and chief song writer Jay Kay was taking at the time this may explain this.
The first track “Just Another Story” is nothing like anything Jamiroquai had offered until this point. It’s a perhaps overly long track but has so many different sections to it you would be forgiven for thinking that you had moved onto a different track.
The first line of the song is “Now it occurred to me” which sees us delve straight into album as if Jay Kay is just re joining the conversation that was being had on the previous album.
The lyrics become quite personal around the 03:40 mark.
Nobody make a move
This kid’s got you covered
He was just seventeen
Trying to get on like his dead brother
Mama couldn’t do a thing for him
Though she hurt inside
And daddy wants his son back
While he knows he’s still alive.
These lyrics refer to Jay Kay being born a Twin but his twin brother died at birth. It also refers to his erratic behavior and his relationship with his mother and lack of relationship with an absent father. On the bands first album the lyrics were mainly about issues with the world, love and drugs. This is Kay showing more of an insight into his life.
“Stillness In Time” is the second track. It’s a quite wonderful soulful song which Kay produces one of the best vocals of his career. This is a forgotten hit for Jamiroquai as it peaked at number 9 in the UK single charts in 1995.
The song is again a change in style for Jamiroquai as there is a bit of a bossa nova groove flowing through the song. Without the lyrics the tune is almost unrecognizable as anything that would come from the Jamiroquai we know today. I love this song. The lyrics are about a Stillness in Time and escaping from the world and whenever I listen to it I do just that.
Track 3 is “Half The Man”. This shows off Kay’s voice impeccably. This is a straight up love song and simple in it’s interpretation.
Yesterday I was
Half the man I used to be
Oh, maybe that’s because
You’re the other helf of me
Like the spring in bloom
The summer of our love is soon
Every bird will sing
The melody of our love tune.
Even on such a ballad the baseline from band member Stuart Zender is still the driving force. The creative nature of the baseline is always a factor in funk and soul music and Zender captures this perfectly even on a track like “Half The Man”.
“Light Years” is more upbeat with a keyboard doing a lot of work in the track. The verses can become a little monotonous but when it breaks down and changes key the song is so sumptuously soulful with the lyric “Now I got that sunshine in my life” making this song one of the most uplifting and positive on the set.
“Manifest Destiny” begins with Zender playing the baseline which will continue throughout this superb chilled out groove.
This is a very sombre track where Kay talks about slavery and how it is a stain on his people and humanity in general.
For ethical slavery is just an absurdity
How can you be alive when you are dead
With these chains of hypocrisy
The shame of my ancestry
Forever stained by blood in which you tread.
Jamiroquai are often dismissed as a Stevie Wonder tribute act which is a lazy and ridiculous comparison. When you listen to a track such as “Manifest Destiny” I can’t believe that you cannot see what a good band they are.
“The Kids” is a bit startling as it’s first note hits. This is so upbeat it’s off the scale. Kay is having to sing so fast it is almost like he is rapping. This is as funky as you’re going to get and the drum playing from band member Nick Van Gelder is phenomenal. This was the only song that Van Gelder played on the album as all the other songs have Derrick Mckenzie on the drums. Van Gelder’s drum playing on the first album on the track “Revolution 1993” was a real highlight and he delivers again on this. The bassline from Zender is on another planet and the whole production of the song is just brilliant.
“Mr Moon” is probably my favourite song off “The Return Of The Space Cowboy”. This is a gorgeous song. The melody is lavish, the vocal layering on the chorus is splendid and again that baseline is to die for. It’s such a groove I could wax lyrical about it all day.
As for the meaning of the lyrics, well this is a difficult one as I don’t know who or what Mr Moon is. It seems like a love song but this love is being aided by Mr Moon. So therefore I can only presume Mr Moon is a drug and the high of this drug is the optimum moment almost as if the stars are aligning.
“Scam” is again something a bit different. Kay’s voice is distorted as if he is speaking to a crowd on a megaphone. This use is deliberate as the song is political and against the establishment of the time which ties into the theme of the debut album. The song seems to say that because of the restrictions put on people it is no suprise that we have to turn to crime (scamming) to make ends meet. It’s a great song and the musicanship is outstanding.
“Journey To Arnhemland” is next and is the only instrumental on the album. The song features a Didgeridoo played by part time Jamiroquai member Wallis Buchanan who played on a few track on the debut album. This song whilst different and still featuring a great bassline from Stuart Zender is the weakest on the set.
The 10th and penultimate track is “Morning Glory”. This is largely an instrumental for the majority but there are lyrics at points. The song is very low key, mellow and nothing you would asscociate with Jamiroquai going forward after this album.
This song is atmospheric and quite beautiful. It is an underrated and criminally overlooked Jamiroquai song.
The final song is the most well known from the album “Space Cowboy”. The dance remix of this song is the one you will have likley heard on the radio the most as it continues to this day to receive quite a bit a airplay. But this is the original version and it is a delight.
For this reviewer this is pleasure to my ears. The fact that the song is about the journey of smoking cannibis should not put you off listening. This is a quite remarkable track structured superbly and at the risk of sounding repetitive the baseline from Stuart Zender is something I could only compare to a great bassist such as Bernard Edwards of Chic.
I love this song. I love this album and honestly I love the music Jamiroquai make.
“The Return Of The Space Cowboy” is a clever progression from the cleaner sound of the debut album. The instrumentation is bolder and the band sound as if they are at their prime.
The following albums would turn Jamiroquai into a successful hit-making pop band but this is where it reached its absolute musical pinnacle.