Jamiroquai - Rock Dust Light Star (2012)

Jamiroquai
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Since the release of 1992's Emergency on Planet Earth, a benchmark in the acid-jazz and reborn funk movements, Jamiroquai – the London-based band led by the uber-stylish, buffalo-hat wearing Jay Kay – proves to be relentless in their vision of birthing a more perfect fusion of clubland epiphanies and Stevie-meets-EW&F experiments atypical of today’s aggressively dominant synth pop. That formula has worked wonders for them on the international stage, earning them six best-selling albums and top-billing at world festivals like Rock in Rio, Montreux and Glastonbury.

Since the release of 1992's Emergency on Planet Earth, a benchmark in the acid-jazz and reborn funk movements, Jamiroquai – the London-based band led by the uber-stylish, buffalo-hat wearing Jay Kay – proves to be relentless in their vision of birthing a more perfect fusion of clubland epiphanies and Stevie-meets-EW&F experiments atypical of today’s aggressively dominant synth pop. That formula has worked wonders for them on the international stage, earning them six best-selling albums and top-billing at world festivals like Rock in Rio, Montreux and Glastonbury.

With the unexpected success behind their third album, Traveling Without Moving, featuring the hit singles “Virtual Insanity” and “Cosmic Girl,” the band made their leap into the consciousness of American imports in the ‘90s. But much of that celebrity status slowly, but surely tapered off due to a lack of distribution and U.S. marketing on the label’s part. And, so Jay Kay and the rest of his funky cohorts parted way from Sony and switched to Universal (Mercury in the UK) and released their latest record, Rock Dust Light Star in 2010. Unfortunately, a release date in the US was never announced. Two years later, Americans no longer have to worry about those high-dollar shipping charges and currency conversions. After securing a distribution deal with Executive Music Group, Rock Dust Light Star finally makes its landing on US soil. Never mind the generic album cover of the US release (the UK cover, showcasing our headdress-wearing Jay Kay on a neon-lit dance floor before a sea of fans, kicks ass): the content of the album hasn’t been tampered.

The title cut opens the album with an enforcement of psychedelic rock and art funk, while revisiting the vernacular of their 1997 UK hit, “High Times” (“You don’t need your name in bright lights/you’re a rock star/and some tin foil with a glass pipe”). Having “Rock Dust Light Star” to open the album makes sense systematically, but it fails to leave a strong impression. Only when the rest of the album unfolds is it clear that Jamiroquai has uncorked one of their finer discs.

The album focuses on a more realistic organic-ness that forgoes strobe-light gimmicks and studio-only fabrications to get the job done, unlike the artier direction honed in on their latter creations. The fluttering strings (handled by Simon Hale) are still there and are heavy in the mix, so are the cool synths, but much of Rock Dust Light Star cranks up the volume on the rock god guitars and disco rhythms with an all-natural freedom. “White Knuckle Ride” fires up a celebration of Chic-inspired guitar and bass, as the super cool mystique of Jay Kay takes center stage: “I’m serious/trouble genies on the way/Got a little something for you/it’s pressure, it gets ya’.” “Smokes and Mirrors” and “All Good in the Hood” continues that regimen of slick four-on-the-floor beats, while exercising more funky horn parts and infectious choruses. Then the band broadens their musical barriers once more with “Hurtin’,” which sounds like an admirable pit stop at a Lenny Kravitz funk throwdown.

The experiments uncovered on their dance floor workouts are also noteworthy, particularly on the album’s second half: “Two Completely Different Things” merges salsa with buttery Barry White-esque Love’s Theme strings, “She’s a Fast Persuader” deposits psychedelic trances into a LCD Soundsystem laser show and “Hey Floyd” dances circles around mood buildups, like a funk song cycle, as it journeys through organ-raging reggae, percussion-driven enforcement and climatic opera.

But, Jamiroquai knows how to simmer things down. They effectively do so on “Blue Skies,” where Jay Kay serenades sweet nothings around a harmonious troop of female voices and symphonic strings. “Never Gonna Be Another,” the most poignant of the album’s ballads, walks on the banks of a Quiet Storm beach, thanks to Matt Johnson’s calming Rhodes chords.

There is no real certainty if Rock Dust Light Star will become swept under the rugs of the American marketplace. But, there’s plenty of reasons why it shouldn’t be ignored: The album is deliciously funky, colorful and never frustrating; the band doesn’t fall into Maroon 5 pop, although they slyly warm up to Top 40 radio’s etiquette; UK acts like Adele, Mumford & Sons, Florence + the Machine, Estelle, Incognito and Mamas Gun have proven to be accessible in their North American expeditions. Despite two years of gathered dust, Rock Dust Light Star is still able to liven up the dullest party. By the way, age still ain’t nothing but a number. Highly recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 
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