The rise of electronic funk has always been teased by the music industry over the years. Artists have always flirted with groovy bass riffs but never dared to go further. That is, until Jamiroquai returned with their latest album – Automaton – which presented us with a new mix of electronica and funk which we had never seen before.
It begins with the opening track, Shake It On. A deep synth is introduced alongside a simplistic drum beat and the odd guitar twang to set the scene for a very different-sounding album. It’s a glimpse into the creative chaos which occurs in the space of 57 minutes, but it’s certainly not the most bizarre song on the record – that’s the title track, Automaton.
With this single (and indeed most of the other songs on the album) being around four to five minutes long, it’s fortunate that Automaton is so random that it keeps listeners interested for the whole duration. Static, beeps and distorted vocals are to be expected on a song which switches between different electronic styles yet still… works. The only two downsides to a track so random is that it detracts from Jay Kay’s whining vocals and instead moves so far away from Jamiroquai’s original style, that only a small hint of it remains.
Thankfully, Cloud 9 takes us back to the sound we know and love. A sluggish and simplistic drum beat emerges with smooth bass and sharp guitar riffs, allowing for Kay to take centre stage with his soft singing style. What follows after the third track is three more funk-heavy, futuristic songs, before much like any piece of technology (an automaton, for example) which has been on for too long, the album runs out of charge.
With bongos in the opening, Summer Girl has a rather bizarre introduction, whilst Kay’s pop-sounding vocals in the verses for Nights Out in the Jungle sound reminiscent of a cringeworthy dance track from the noughties. Dr. Buzz‘s saxophone solo and more chilled funk style is reassuring, but does little to stand out amongst the other forgettable tracks in this half of the album. The surprise comes with track 11 – Vitamin – where the tempo is upped and a complex drum beat drives the album straight towards its finale.
Automaton ends with the resurgence of the futuristic funk. Clara sees repetitive bass melodies and uneventful vocals, but it’s as the groovy guitar fades away in the last 20 seconds of the song that the album is brought to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. 12 songs later, and fans are left to ponder the creative joyride they just listened to. Jamiroquai’s latest album by is a vibrant and imaginative release from the band, daring to introduce a fresh blend of funk which other artists are too scared to explore.
Overall rating – 3/5
The team at Heterodox Music’s thoughts are with the friends and family of Toby Smith – Jamiroquai’s keyboardist who passed away last week. You can read lead singer Jay Kay’s tribute to the musician on the band’s Facebook page.