Back in 1992, I watched a new band performing on TV. I liked the sound a lot, and the unusual voice of the singer, accompanied by some good dance moves, added up to something that was definitely right up my street. Described as either ‘Acid Jazz’, or ‘Jazz Funk’, this relatively short-lived musical genre combined many elements that I had always enjoyed, and merged them into a new sound.
The band I watched that night was called ‘Jamiroquai’, and the lead vocalist, Jason ‘Jay’ Kay soon became known for his unusual headgear, as well as for his gyrating and jerky dance styles. The main thing was that they were good at what they were doing. Very good indeed. I soon purchased the debut single, ‘When you Gonna Learn’, and played it to death. It had a theme of conservation, something that continued in more songs from the group. It’s still a great track, fourteen years later.
After the success of that song, Jamiroquai was signed by Sony Music. They soon released the new album, ‘Emergency On Planet Earth’, and I bought it when it came out, keen to hear more. This contained more of the same, and some better too. It had great critical acclaim, and launched the band into immediate stardom. Well, stardom for Jay Kay at least, as few of us could name anyone else in the line-up. Some tracks released as singles also stormed up the charts, including this one.
This was the age of the pop video, and it was apparent that the charismatic Jay Kay was destined to be the star of these, as well as the public face of Jamiroquai. He was also a publicist’s dream, embracing the pop star lifestyle with his fast cars, celebrity girlfriends, and frequent appearances in the newspapers. However, the talent could not be denied, and the next album was issued to continuing rave reviews. ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’ brought international attention to the band, and made their sound a staple of the burgeoning club scene too. It sold over four million copies, and raised comparison with Stevie Wonder for Jay Kay. High praise indeed. And well-deserved, on this occasion. I was still firmly hooked, and liked them better than ever.
By the time that ‘Travelling Without Moving’ came out in 1996, I was already beginning to wonder if they could keep it up. But they could, and that album proved it. The huge hit from this release, ‘Virtual Insanity’ confirmed that they were still on the right track, and just kept delivering the goods. The official video for the song was of cinematic quality too. Besides, Jay’s hats were just getting better and better, and these CDs were never off my player.
In 1999, the fourth album was released. ‘Synkronized’ was the familiar sound, but had a definite disco feel. With the group still riding high, it gave them another huge single hit, with ‘Deeper Underground’ which was used on the soundtrack to the new film version of ‘Godzilla’ at the time.
I didn’t warm to this in the same way as their previous work. It felt as if something was missing. Perhaps they were cashing in? Maybe just sticking with a tried and tested formula. I couldn’t be sure, but sensed something had changed. And it had. Two years later, ‘A Funk Odyssey’ marked a change in sound, as well as in the line-up of the group. The critics no longer loved them, and questions were being asked about the direction the band was taking. The hit single, ‘You Give Me Something’ was familiar enough to die-hard fans, but the disco influences were obviously taking over. Bad move.
By 2005, I was still buying their new records, but not playing them as much as the old ones. That year, ‘Dynamite’ made the top ten in the album chart. The single from it, ‘Feels Just Like It Should’ also charted, helped by a more modern, funkier feel, capturing the sense of what was selling at the time. I didn’t get the same excitement though, and went back to playing the earlier records for a feel of the real Jamiroquai.
The following year, a compilation of hit singles was released. This is something that usually signals the death of a band, and though this did not really apply at the time, it left me with a sense of foreboding. We had to wait until 2010 for the seventh album, ‘Rock Dust Light Star’. Despite some outstanding tracks like ‘Blue Skies’ and the convincing vocals from Jay Kay, it just wasn’t the same anymore, and I hardly ever played my CD.
Six years on, and the band has undergone changes in both record label, and personnel. They are still very much in existence though, and plan to release a new studio album soon. I just cannot help but think that it will never feel like Jamiroquai again though.