Middle England’s favourite funkateer delivers the goods again.
Johnny Sharp 2010-10-27
Jamiroquai have spent their 18-year career occupying an indistinct spot in British music somewhere between almost cool and slightly naff. It has helped Jay Kay (for Jamiroquai, let’s face it, is he, plus an evolving cast of collaborators) become one of those artists whose music seems somehow fashion-proof, because it’s never been in or out of it.
Since their mainstream emergence with number one debut Emergency on Planet Earth back in 1993, the band’s disco-friendly jazz-funk sound has undergone very little makeover, and although Kay’s been somewhat laughably dubbed "the king of funk" in downmarket newspapers and regularly gushed over in upmarket Sunday supplement profiles, he has always been a little too unashamedly successful for music anoraks to embrace unreservedly. It’s easy to sneer at the man’s taste for loose cars and fast women, and smirk cynically when he gets in another tabloid-documented late night scrape; but he is still around not because of his penchant for silly hats or memorable videos, but due to undeniable songwriting ability.
The 12 tracks here are further testament to that talent. The falsetto disco of White Knuckle Ride could as easily have been released in 1980, and Smoke and Mirrors features a honking sax that could just as easily have featured in an M People track or an Average White Band instrumental. Meanwhile, the lyric on the latter concerns someone who "wants your lovin’ tonight" – Kay walks a thin line between the classic and the clichéd, and doesn’t seem too bothered which side he strays onto. Yet if you can leave your prejudices at the door there’s much to enjoy for fans of an unaffected good time under the nearest glitterball.
In fact it’s when he strays from familiar generic territory that he flounders. The Lighthouse Family-style gloop of single Blue Skies sounds limp and drippy, to the point where the words Wet, Wet and Wet spring to mind. Thankfully a slight sag in the middle of this album is made up for with the Blaxploitation dramatics of Hey Floyd and vintage soul smooch of Never Gonna Be Another. They have that vintage feel that makes you swear you’ve heard them before, but you don’t know where. Then you stop asking if it’s okay to like this music, because it’s a guilty pleasure minus the guilt.