Automaton – Jamiroquai (2017)

Jamiroquai returned with a new album in 2017 having not released new material since “Rock, Dust, Light Star” in 2010.

The gaps between albums have become longer for a group (solo project if you want to go there) that appear to be on a wind down in terms of commercial success with the previous album failing to make an impact although I thought it was quite good and better than the more commercially appealing “Dynamite” from 2005.

As the worlds biggest Jamiroquai fan (this is true, don’t try and argue) I was stupidly excited by the release of “Automaton” as in all honesty I did not think I would hear another new Jamiroquai album again.

Jay Kay has seen his life change with the birth of two children and with this interest in his life as a celebrity has diminished. Jamiroquai still get played on the radio as the select four songs “Space Cowboy”, “Virtual Insanity”, “Cosmic Girl” and “Canned Heat” continue to get rolled out.

Music has moved on but I was still intrigued to see what Jamiroquai could offer.

Jay-Kay

We kick off with “Shake It On”. A synth pop singalong track which starts off like a number of songs on the album. It’s very much a sound from the “Funk Odyssey” era and is a solid opener to the project as it is talking about being ready to start something again.

It has some self-reflective lyrics such as “Music still infecting me, music still protecting me” which has Jay ensuring his the listener that despite the hiatus music is still important to him and is something he wants to continue to pursue. But lyrically the whole song is a bit hollow.

The title track “Automaton” was the first single prior to the albums release. The track takes on the same type of theme as 1996’s “Virtual Insanity” and I consider it almost like a squeal as what was warned on that track has come true and we are now a slave to virtual reality.

It too a while to grow on me but I really like the place “Automaton” is coming from. It’s not a song like likes to sit still and has a number of shifts in sound and style. The break down has a nod to that classic funky Jamiroquai but the whole track is attempting to be a cold and soulless account of a future where we see everything through a virtual lens.

“Cloud 9” is a track that is extremely pleasant but lacks any real depth. It is such a safe song it doesn’t really fit the rest of the album. I don’t think it is a bad song and many casual fans of Jamiroquai will be happy with it but it’s such a weak effort.

“Superfresh” is a full on disco pop cacophony which is camp and sounds a bit dated. But nevertheless it is very catchy and I doubt you’ll be able to stop yourself from grooving just a little. I do like the bassline on this one and Kay gives a few vocal turns that remind you of past Jamiroquai tracks.

Whilst I thought ‘Cloud 9’ and ‘Superfresh’ missed the mark I don’t think the same with “Hot Property” which is arguably my favourite song off the album. It’s has this dirty punchy bassline that has Kay singing some quite redundant lyrics but at the same time it is all about the groove and this is what this track certainly has in spades.

“Something About You” much like “Cloud 9” is a very safe song lacking any sort of edge it all seems a bit pointless. This track like many on this album sound like off cuts from either the Dynamite (2005) or Rock Dust Light Star (2010) eras. A song like this wouldn’t have made any of those albums as better tracks such as “Hot Tequila Brown” or  “Two Complely Different Things” would have been above it. This sounds like it is in the same vein yet totally misses the mark for me and is just a album filler.

“Summer Girl” is a nice breezy track that has an extremely soulful groove. Despite my misgivings about this album some of the instrumentals remain on point and this is a prime example. The main issue I have with “Summer Girl” is it sounds like Jamiroquai trying to sound like Jamiroquai. Almost it is a parody of themselves as if someone was tasked to make a song sound like Jamiroquai – it would sound similar but never really pack a punch.

“Nights Out In The Jungle” does pack a punch and the minimal lyrical content actually help the song simmer. The groove is infectious and this is such a superb track and one wonders what an album in the same vein as this could have sounded like. This is super cool, groovy and sounds like it could have come from any era. Kay sounds brilliant on this one.

“Dr Buzz” is a track I dismissed early on. I was at the launch gig for this album at the Roundhouse in London and when they performed this I felt a bit empty as it didn’t immediately grab me at all. On further listens (on which there have been many) I am pleased that it has grown on me. I still don’t think it is as good as anything off Rock Dust Light Star (okay maybe “Never Gonna Be Another”) but it has developed in my brain as more of listenable experience despite it being unnecessarily over 6 minutes long.

“We Can Do It” received a bit of airplay on the soul music stations I listen to in London but I am not entirely sure why this was picked as it certainly isn’t a strong point of “Automaton”. The accent Kay uses is reminiscent of “Drifting Along” from “Travelling Without Moving” when Kay was giving a go at a Rasta inflection on his vocal over a reggae beat. Whilst that was done with a bit of humour this just sounds flat.

But the bassline is again delicious and the whole instrumental is funky as hell.

“Vitamin” will have pleased a lot of the hardcore Jamiroquai fans although would isolate those looking for a “Cosmic Girl” or a “Little L”. It’s a 70’s fast paced funky frenzy where Kay sounds classically brilliant. This is a song that can go alongside any great Jamiroquai track and stands up against all the best songs that have come out of this funk outfit.

The Album finishes with “Carla” which is the name of one of Kays daughters. It’s a nice sentiment and again the whole band sound tight as ever but melodically it sounds so very boring and isn’t a track I enjoy listening to especially with the annoying chorus chanting of “Carrrllaaa”.

 

 

I think you can tell I wasn’t over awed with “Automaton”. The themes on the title track were clever as it harped back to a mindset previously explored by the band in 1996. But some of the tracks sound like off cuts of previous albums and middle of the road fodder.

I don’t know if this will be the last Jamiroquai album. Of course I really hope it won’t be but the time between each album is very frustrating and due to the lack of releases since 2005 the band have now become just a memory to people who can recall a few of the big hits.

I still think there is one more great album in Jamiroquai. I hope to hear it soon.

 

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