Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jamiroquai - Rock Dust Light Star (2010) Album Review

I have to admit that I'm only a recent convert to all sounds Jamiro. Apart from their biggest hits, my first real encounter with a Jam album would be "A Funk Odyssey", which was on cassette- a record I got some time in college. The next one would be "High Times: Singles", on mp3. And it was probably only three years ago that I seriously listened to the rest of Jamiroquai's moderate catalog. My fingers would eventually keep "Return Of The Space Cowboy" constantly on the ready, whenever I needed to bob my head to that StuZender-flavored funky bass, and yeah, the rest is history. That album completely turned me into a fan.

Now that Jay Kay and company have arrived with the new and shiny Rock Dust Light Star, and with that "White Knuckle Ride" teaser video on Youtube constantly reminding me that this should be a pretty sick record, I was hella excited to load the tracks up on the Winamp, once I got a-hold o' 'em, *ahem*, and watch the new music unfold...

Wait... these other tracks don't sound like "White Knuckle Ride".

What I heard was an actual band playing - something we all probably forgot Jamiroquai was. As I went on to listen to the rest of the tracks, I realize that these supposed "electro converts" are damn serious about returning to analog. With the sole exception of "White Knuckle Ride", this is probably the most stripped-down they have sounded since, umm, Return Of The Space Cowboy. That doesn't necessarily mean they've returned to their old sound, by the way. It just means they - whoever calls the shots (I bet my ass it's Jay Kay), are actually allowing themselves to play straight out of their instruments seemingly without any kind of digital rendering to boost bass or add synths, effects, or whatever, to make it sound more electronica. They are, once again, effectively a live band, everyone. Bra Vo.

I'm the one riding the fancy cars, therefore I
call the shots, mmk?
Despite that though, I hate to say that the record feels uninspired and a bit trite at certain points. Maybe it is the prevalence of downtempo songs- the type of songs one would expect to appear at least once or twice in a typical Jamiroquai album, songs this band certainly did NOT build its career and reputation upon. Well, apparently this one is crawling with slow songs, like it or not. Once upon a time, Jay Kay described his band's music "punchy" in an interview. He did not lie. And I liked their music that way.

Is this the best Jamiroquai album? No. But if you're asking if this album has any good songs at all- the answer is yes. Are there good downtempo and "punchy" tracks? Yes. The dreamy or should I say spellbinding title track, "Rock Dust Light Star", calmly and gently soothes you in a confetti-like fashion, sets the stage and promises a more relaxing Jamiroquai experience than usual. "White Knuckle Ride"'s big beats and signature bass lines will leave you stomping your feet and bobbing your head as usual. And my favorite, and probably the closest they'll ever get to their acid jazz sound, "She's A Fast Persuader" - whips up a sleek and clever bass line over a fast beat (that, in my mind, quaintly reminds me of "Eye Of The Tiger"). I won't be surprised if the "she" in that song was another one of Jay Kay's absurd vehicles. Don't miss the magnificent bass break near the end, by the way. As for the other tracks, there's not much good to say about them, really. If I must, I would say "Never Gonna Be Another", besides having the keys as its only redeeming quality, feels like it was specifically written to be sung by some cheesy pop star, crooning to some kind of Rapunzel at the balcony.

In a nutshell, the album starts off pretty well, but then muddles into downtempo mediocrity. I know I shouldn't, but that lack of experimentation and adventurism with the rest of the tracks makes you wish Stuart Zender was still behind that bass (Oh dear. Here comes that Stu-talk again. sheesh) - that's definitely someone who, in my recollection, would unabashedly slap the hell out of it, or wouldn't have second thoughts about melding extravagant bass licks into a bland track. When more appropriate than at a time they're finally loosening up with the fancy electronics? Ahh... dreams, dreams.

But in all honestly, I doubt a Stu reunion would save this band from what it has become. This Jamiroquai, whoever their current line up is (besides that dude who wears the funny hats and dances funny), sounds a bit too reserved. A bit too disciplined. And a bit too old. Even Jay Kay's voice rasps with the decay of age - struggling to break its ever-shrinking range and having to settle with less theatrics than it is usually known for. Oh well, we all grow old at some point - but it certainly doesn't mean we can no longer loosen up and have more fun.

My score:
6 out of 10

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