Whatever happened to?: Jamiroquai

Back in 1992, I watched a new band performing on TV. I liked the sound a lot, and the unusual voice of the singer, accompanied by some good dance moves, added up to something that was definitely right up my street. Described as either ‘Acid Jazz’, or ‘Jazz Funk’, this relatively short-lived musical genre combined many elements that I had always enjoyed, and merged them into a new sound.

The band I watched that night was called ‘Jamiroquai’, and the lead vocalist, Jason ‘Jay’ Kay soon became known for his unusual headgear, as well as for his gyrating and jerky dance styles. The main thing was that they were good at what they were doing. Very good indeed. I soon purchased the debut single, ‘When you Gonna Learn’, and played it to death. It had a theme of conservation, something that continued in more songs from the group. It’s still a great track, fourteen years later.

After the success of that song, Jamiroquai was signed by Sony Music. They soon released the new album, ‘Emergency On Planet Earth’, and I bought it when it came out, keen to hear more. This contained more of the same, and some better too. It had great critical acclaim, and launched the band into immediate stardom. Well, stardom for Jay Kay at least, as few of us could name anyone else in the line-up. Some tracks released as singles also stormed up the charts, including this one.

This was the age of the pop video, and it was apparent that the charismatic Jay Kay was destined to be the star of these, as well as the public face of Jamiroquai. He was also a publicist’s dream, embracing the pop star lifestyle with his fast cars, celebrity girlfriends, and frequent appearances in the newspapers. However, the talent could not be denied, and the next album was issued to continuing rave reviews. ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’ brought international attention to the band, and made their sound a staple of the burgeoning club scene too. It sold over four million copies, and raised comparison with Stevie Wonder for Jay Kay. High praise indeed. And well-deserved, on this occasion. I was still firmly hooked, and liked them better than ever.

By the time that ‘Travelling Without Moving’ came out in 1996, I was already beginning to wonder if they could keep it up. But they could, and that album proved it. The huge hit from this release, ‘Virtual Insanity’ confirmed that they were still on the right track, and just kept delivering the goods. The official video for the song was of cinematic quality too. Besides, Jay’s hats were just getting better and better, and these CDs were never off my player.

In 1999, the fourth album was released. ‘Synkronized’ was the familiar sound, but had a definite disco feel. With the group still riding high, it gave them another huge single hit, with ‘Deeper Underground’ which was used on the soundtrack to the new film version of ‘Godzilla’ at the time.

I didn’t warm to this in the same way as their previous work. It felt as if something was missing. Perhaps they were cashing in? Maybe just sticking with a tried and tested formula. I couldn’t be sure, but sensed something had changed. And it had. Two years later, ‘A Funk Odyssey’ marked a change in sound, as well as in the line-up of the group. The critics no longer loved them, and questions were being asked about the direction the band was taking. The hit single, ‘You Give Me Something’ was familiar enough to die-hard fans, but the disco influences were obviously taking over. Bad move.

By 2005, I was still buying their new records, but not playing them as much as the old ones. That year, ‘Dynamite’ made the top ten in the album chart. The single from it, ‘Feels Just Like It Should’ also charted, helped by a more modern, funkier feel, capturing the sense of what was selling at the time. I didn’t get the same excitement though, and went back to playing the earlier records for a feel of the real Jamiroquai.

The following year, a compilation of hit singles was released. This is something that usually signals the death of a band, and though this did not really apply at the time, it left me with a sense of foreboding. We had to wait until 2010 for the seventh album, ‘Rock Dust Light Star’. Despite some outstanding tracks like ‘Blue Skies’ and the convincing vocals from Jay Kay, it just wasn’t the same anymore, and I hardly ever played my CD.

Six years on, and the band has undergone changes in both record label, and personnel. They are still very much in existence though, and plan to release a new studio album soon. I just cannot help but think that it will never feel like Jamiroquai again though.

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35 thoughts on “Whatever happened to?: Jamiroquai

  1. I went to see them yesterday in Vienna for the 1st time. Although I didnt get on with the earliest stuff, they became one of my favourite bands. I was never one for buying many albums but I do love the greatest hits. They played some of the music from the new album too, I have to say I wasnt so impressed.

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  2. You know, Pete, with SO many videos, by the time I’d watched and listened to several the tick-tick of my to-do list began to nag at me. If you hadn’t wondered about the dearth of comments, I might have left without leaving one myself – meaning to come back, but you know how that goes. Maybe that’s part of the reason why you get so many hits, yet comparatively few comments.

    I agree with you, btw. For me, their background beat became formulaic over time – and tedious, actually, compared to the excitement of their earlier work. The videos certainly got increasingly more “professional” (and big budget), but the sound is what keeps a band at the forefront – at least I believe that is still true. I don’t really follow the music scene, so my reflection may well be naive.

    I LOVED their early sound. Their later work was not unique enough to differentiate them from a bazillion other bands, or so it seemed to my ears. Something I’ve noted only after bands get signed – so maybe the producers are driving the phenomena – into the ground, IMHO.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

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    1. I can only agree, Madelyn. The promise of the early work, and the raw sound, was overwhelmed by commercial success and the need to provide consumables. In their case, more less exciting records, and slicker video clips.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. Unlike yourself, I heard space cowboy before the original album. This was during my initial plummet into fusion music. A precious mixmag article (precious because you couldn’t just summon an article with your thumbs, like I did with yours) compared them to stevie wonder and weather report, setting them apart from most pop acts of the day. Looking back, many of those pop acts were quite decent, but none blew my mind like ‘Just another Story’, ‘scam’, and the wonderful ‘journey to arnhelmland’.
    Upon the recommendation of actor Killian Murphy, my next investigation was Australian Directions In Groove, which are more heavy on the jazz improvisations. It wasn’t long before I heard Headhunters, and that really was all she wrote. Once I had the names of Mike Clark,Paul Jackson, Harvey Mason, and all the herbie alumni, I had many juicy leads to follow and within weeks I’d truly crossed the stargate into interplanetary funk, as JK touted.
    Decades later, having chased down the most galactic fusion efforts of every era, I’m now armed with deeply discriminatory critique references, and weild them unflinchingly.
    Yet, some of jamiroquai’s efforts still stand up there among my favourite tracks. ‘Destitute Illusions’ seems like a high watermark of the urban type fusion the band were pursuing. Serious critics will argue that the use of the turntables is just a gimmick, but it’s undeniable that it works. It’s such a shame that they stopped including instrumental tracks like that on their increasingly bland albums. One can only deduce that elements that exist within the atmosphere during a given era allow for the creation of great music. Headhunters can never be approximated again, neither can Return of The Space Cowboy, or any of the great pop albums of the decades of yore. The climate has shifted, and the brain cells that created that great music have been metabolised.
    That is my speculation on your original premise of ‘what happened to jamiroquai?’. Even more depressingly, I believe that the cells we’re currently composed of can’t fully relate to or identify with the music the way we once did. We can merely have a fleetinh sentimental reflection, as the gears of history incessantly grind forward.

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    1. Now that’s what I call a comment! Thanks very much for taking the time to add your thoughts and experiences to this post.
      It is still something of an enigma, as it remains the most-read post on this blog, since it was first published.
      Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t read it, and for the last few weeks, it has still been the top post on the weekly figures.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. The pleasure was mine Pete. It’s with good reason that this is your most popular post, as people are obviously posing the question ‘what happened to jamiroquai?’ to their search engines. And you have provided an impartial overview of their trajectory, which perhaps the big music mags with vested interests cannot. Hopefully JK himself will become aware of the disappointment that is expressed here, and elsewhere, and return with an album which restores his credibility.

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  4. If they put out a new one, I’ll be buying! I’ve loved Jamiroquai from the first time I heard the music in 1996. I live in the USA, and sadly they never tour here. They made one appearance on “Saturday Night Live” which is probably the longest running live television show here, but aside from that nothing. Absolutely one of my favorite top three bands of all time!

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    1. Thanks very much for your comment, Cody. Nice to hear from an American fan. There are rumours of the band getting back together to release new work, but nothing solid so far. Jay Kay is around 47 years old now, so I don’t expect the same sound. However, like you, I will eagerly anticipate any new material.
      Best wishes from England. Pete.

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  5. So funny that I come across your post today – I happened to be wondering just that yesterday. So now I know that they are still around. Haven’t listened to them in ages but is high time I do. I remember the “Acid Jazz” club I used to hang out at very fondly. Time for memory lane. Great post.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. It is funny how things just pop into your head. Or sometimes, I hear a snippet of a song on a TV advert, or film soundtrack, and it takes me right back to a certain place and time. Music is wonderful for being able to do that.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  6. I’ve never heard of this group, but was very happy to listen to all of the songs you supplied for this post. I really enjoyed the tunes and loved his voice quite a bit. Thank you for the journey through a lot of their music…

    Take care, Laura

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    1. I think that the image, and the press coverage, made him hard to like at the time. I saw him interviewed a few times, and he was often soft-spoken and charming. Those first few albums were real classics for me though.
      Cheers, Eddy.
      Best wishes to all, Pete.

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  7. I’ll have to give these songs a listen later. I’ve never heard of Jamiroquai or Jay Kay. But it does seem like a trend in music: breakout hit, great followup albums, best of collections, new crappy songs, singing the old songs to diehard fans with long memories….

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