Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jamiroquai: Rock Dust Light Star

Originally published by PopMatters on November 10, 2010

Whenever Jamiroquai comes up in conversation, the words “guilty” and “pleasure” are almost guaranteed to follow. But what’s there to feel guilty about? What Jamiroquai does isn’t hurting anyone, except maybe whatever birds have sacrificed their lush plumage for frontman Jay Kay’s goofy trademark hats.

Jamiroquai is sort of like M*A*S*H, the classic sitcom which squeezed 11 seasons of television out of a three year war. Jamiroquai’s retro-funk sound, nearly two decades along, still mines much of its sound from a period in the mid-‘70s when funk made the coke slide into disco. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because fans of any artist are fickle, wishing for artistic development on one hand and longing for the sounds of the glory days on the other.

Witness “All Good in the Hood”, (I’ve seen footage of the tony mansion in which Kay and his fleet of sports cars resides, and it’s hardly a “hood”) with its insistent Larry Graham bass and four on the floor dance rhythm.

Even the slow jams (“Blue Skies”) sound either dated or classic, likely depending on whether you love or loathe Jamiroquai. It’s also where the album really stumbles, as there’s way too much of the half-speed stuff. It’s as though Kay’s age is catching up with him, and he needs more breaks in the live set where he can get away with not running up and down a conveyor belt.

There are a few minor tweaks to the Jamiroquai template, like the noisy riffage of “Hurtin’”. But even when injecting a new flavor, Kay and Co. still seem hopelessly devoted to the ‘70s.

Here’s the thing: Like every Jamiroquai album, Rock Dust Light Star is a ton of fun. It shows virtually no development, no nods to anything but its own core sound and nothing to distinguish it from all the albums that came before. And yet it’s still exactly what Jamiroquai should be. Kay still sounds great, and the hired hands that make up the rest of Jamiroquai hit all the right notes in keeping the message unvarnished. Lead single “White Knuckle Ride” could have come from any album in the band’s canon, but so what? It’s ridiculously infectious.

The cover, which features Kay in a hat that looks like it fell off the epaulet of one of Elton John’s old stage outfits, is probably meant to feel like a party. It shows the frontman on stage, facing away from a massive crowd. And maybe that’s meant to come off as inclusive, but what it really feels like—especially with the security-lined chasm between the edge of the crowd and the lighted catwalk on which Kay presumably shimmies—is separation. And that’s okay, because Jamiroquai never wanted to get into your pants anyway. They were always about hitting the dancefloor, even way back when they had a guy playing didgeridoo and feigned political consciousness in their lyrics.

Rock Dust Light Star is thankfully much smoother than its clumsy title. It’s the seventh straight album of mostly identical music released by Jamiroquai, and what else could anyone really want from these guys?

7 out of 10