For a band that revolutionized funk rock in the early 90s, it would seem like 2017 is not the year. 80s revival is the name of the game in music, with many artists riding the -waves to success. Funk might be too passé of a sound, and Jamiroquai‘s particular mainstream appeal from the early 00s might cause people who are looking for a niche sound to feel like it’s the same old stuff. All of this could have happened. Instead, Jamiroquai expertly navigated this landscape and found a relevant angle with their 8th album, Automaton.
What’s the trick? It’s deceptively simple, really. They’ve taken the classic Jamiroquai sound of funky, groovy rock and blended it with synthwave. It could have been a disaster, as blending two genres isn’t necessarily trivial especially when they’re both romanticized approximations of older genres. The formulas are already too tight, and changing things can break the balance. But from a different perspective it makes perfect sense. Funk is a 70s sound, and synthwave is an 80s sound. Back in the day, there was some overlap between these genres as they transitioned. By harnessing that overlap and emphasizing it, the british disco masters have created a brilliant sound consisting of funky guitar lines driven by electronic drum grooves.
Even then, much here could have gone wrong. Frontman Jay Kay is 47 this year, but his voice sounds as fresh as ever. The music is precisely in tune with the zeitgeist of music culture, so it’s clear that he and his crew have kept their finger on the pulse. It would have been easy for them to rest on their laurels and make yet another Jamiroquai album and make some money, but they’ve legitimately tried to push the boundary and make art that stands for itself, and they’ve succeeded. Being an artist who has been in the game for so long can easily lead to inertia, which would get the band stuck in an archaic sound, but instead they’ve used their experience to their advantage. They’ve taken elements of their sound that worked best – the snappy vocal lines, head-bobbing grooves and smooth disco sound, and augmented it with retro-modern trends in a way that actually respects the trends.
Essentially, Automaton is brilliant. Here we have a legendary band decades into their career saying they’re willing to re-evalute themselves without giving up on their core values that make them tick. If anything in the formula for this album was slightly different, it would be archaic or trying too hard. But the way it turned out is just so effortless, and Jamiroquai have added an album to their discography that feels both brand new and familiar.