Jay Kay and Jamiroquai have been away for seven years, but absolutely nothing has changed on their eighth album.
Automaton is Jamiroquai’s long-anticipated return since their 2010 album Rock Dust Light Star. For some, Jamiroquai is a product of its era, with its cheesy lyrics and Jay Kay’s eccentric choice of headdress typifying the late ‘90s. The modern pop culture sphere has shown to have a zero-tolerance attitude towards using the native American headdress, seeing the likes of Pharrell, Victoria’s Secret, Karen O, and Jay Kay himself criticised for this practice. Automaton sees the band stick to its eccentricities, continuing the vintage synth funk that is present throughout what is now a hefty eight-album discography, but teases a transition to techno-infused disco and electro pop with the presence of vocal distortion on the title track ‘Automaton’ which is also the lead single.
The cover art itself sees Jay Kay sport a 3D-printed light-up helmet designed by Moritz Waldemeyer. The futurism theme remains an aesthetic part of the album, however, the album itself boasts vapid themes of heartbreak and infatuation on a range of electronic melodies. The album opener ‘Shake It On’ is a classic disco track, sporting soulful backing vocals and a clean disco rhythm, providing a promise of 57 minutes of nostalgic funk. ‘We Can Do It’ offers a promising peak into Travelling Without Moving nostalgia, but the 4-minute track is lyrically repetitive, the instrumentation of the prevents it from becoming a monotone piece of pop. ‘Nights Out In The Jungle’ sees Jay Kay chanting/rapping over a disco beat, hailing from the influence of Afrika Bambaataa.
The instrumentation of the album presents Jamiroquai as a funk band competing for a space in electronic-pop world that Daft Punk has taken with Random Access Memories in 2013 and their work on The Weeknd’s Starboy. Both groups use the creative stimuli of electronic keyboard-driven ‘80s funk and pop but we see Jamiroquai at their weakest when they attempt to utilise the tenets of disco that have been embedded into pop music. For example, ‘Something About You’ uses modern, chorus-and-verse pop song structure and borrow synths and drums from the realm of disco making it a piece comparable to a modern Pharrell-produced track. A standout track is ‘Superfresh’, which manages to successfully differentiate itself from today’s disco influenced pop, on the chorus we hear the repetition “superfresh, baby” in robot vocals, responding to Jay Kay’s question of “Can I get another dance with you?”, the song’s simplicity works in its favour. ‘Dr. Buzz’ is another simple track, it sports a slower tempo and deals with themes of escapism and drug use. The song also sports a three-minute outro with an electric guitar and distorted keyboard, tying the song together with the band’s eccentrics.
‘Hot Property’ is a somewhat outdated track, it calls on its disco predecessors and praises a femme fatale, the lyrics “That girl is hot, hot, hot, hot property” in today’s critical society are invitations to cries of misogyny like a red rag to a bull. The closing track, ‘Carla’, is a better contender for the appreciation of the female form, it consists of a simple synth melody and lyrically is a typical ballad.
Overall, Automaton is a danceable 57 minutes but, as it’s not ‘Virtual Insanity’ or ‘Canned Heat’-type originality, the album suffices as material to pad out a set-list, but seeks to find coherence in a music scene that it will not appease, which causes its downfall. (4/10) (Benita Barden)
Listen to Automaton here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, Automaton, Benita Barden, Jamiroquai, Jay Kay, review, Virgin EMI
19 years old, born and bred in West London, currently studying Media, Journalism and Culture at Cardiff University. My musical listening habits waver between hip-hop, electronic and indie. Reviews, commentary and complaints are my current speciality, but as the great Jay-Z states ‘Everybody can tell you how to do it / they never did it’.
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