Review: Jamiroquai – Rock Dust Light Star

November 11, 2010

“Here it is, there’s no way to make it better.”

One of the opening lines to White Knuckle Ride, the debut single of Jamiroquai’s seventh studio album Rock Dust Light Star. Some would say this pretty much sums up the whole album, or even the whole outfit, but I’d draw the line there. It’s been five years since their last one (Dynamite, for those who’ve forgotten or just didn’t know). There are elements from that album that have transfused into this one, but the main omission is the electronic vibe; this one dons its cap at the early years. Most of the songs could be traced back to a song already released, but updated for 2010 and I think this really caters for both the hardcore fan who might have been disillusioned with Dynamite and Jamiroquai’s move from its organic roots and the weekend fan who just wants to boogie on down to some crazy cosmic funk.

What I really like about this one is that it fills in any gaps made from the other releases: Emergency on Planet Earth covered acid jazz and some early funk, Return of the Space Cowboy did the same but more so with the funk and the blaxploitation era music it seemed clearly inspired by, Travelling Without Moving, their magnum opus, the biggest selling funk album of all time, Synkronized with their move to disco and soul and a more electronic approach which leaked into A Funk Odyssey and Dynamite. With funk, soul, acid jazz and disco all covered, what would be left to do? Rock and a bit of house of course, and you get a bit of both in RDLS, with the usual repeat offenders. Would you have them any other way?

So here’s my track-by-track summary. Feel free to agree or disagree and then repeat the sentiment when you read my conclusion.

1. Rock Dust Light Star

The title track, maybe a little weak for my personal tastes. It doesn’t provide the kind of punch I would have hoped for after five years out. Fortunately, I’m an enormous fan and knew the next track was going to be superb so I listened on. The live offering is significantly better, but this one eases you in if you’re a new listener, but won’t blow you away.

Similar song: Couldn’t really think of one.

Rating: 6/10

2. White Knuckle Ride

It’s funk, it’s house, it’s “high-octane”, it’s Jamiroquai. If it wasn’t for track 8, this would have been my track of the year. It’s infectious and contains the classic lyric you can repeat over and over: “Pressure, it’s not so easy to control”. A response to the music industry from Jay Kay, it really hits the spot and proves to the critics and haters that the band (not just the front man) still have what it takes since Virtual Insanity and Canned Heat all those years ago.

Similar song: Cosmic Girl from Travelling Without Moving

Rating: 9/10

3. Smoke and Mirrors

Someone pointed out to me that this had a real acid jazz feel about it, and I couldn’t agree more and something I noticed immediately about it was the return of the horn section. A grumble amongst of a lot of fans was the exclusion of the horn section from a lot of the tracks from the past two albums. It’s a welcome return and it’s the first throwback track to the Golden Age of 1992-1994.

Similar song: Hooked Up from Emergency on Planet Earth

Rating: 8/10

4. All Good In The Hood

I remembered chuckling to myself at this title (in my head because it wasn’t funny enough to laugh out loud). It sounds very 70s and low and behold, this one is. Certainly reminds me of Soul Education and the old soul/funk vibe of the time and in some ways this song could be seen as a soul education, a genre that hasn’t really had anyone fighting for it in recent years thanks to the joy that is commercial dance and what people insist on calling R&B (separate rant for a separate day).

Similar song: Soul Education from Synkronized

Rating: 7/10

5. Hurtin’

This track may be a little hard to swallow for the hardcore fans. Why? Well, for a start, Jay Kay seems like he’s doing an impression of Stereophonics lead singer Kelly Jones and for the cynic in some, they sound like a tired rock band. I agree with the former only. For me, it’s their second full foray into a genre they’ve only gently touched on over the years with Deeper Underground and Radio from their Greatest Hits. Of course, their first foray, Feels Just Like It Should, opened the previous album and was met with a bit of a Marmite response because it was too rocky for some, but I liked it and I like this one. Again, another 70s throwback and for me it works. How the hell did I lose ya? I’ll leave that question up to you, folks.

Similar song: Feels Just Like It Should from Dynamite

Rating: 8/10

6. Blue Skies

What… a Jamiroquai ballad? That sounds modern? Good heavens, this can’t be right. Well it is. And it’s damn good. I really love this song, the slight vibrato on some of the end notes (something I’ve personally longed for for quite a while), the slower pace to relax to, not to mention the fact that it proves that they aren’t just one trick ponies. The amount of times I’ve heard people say “they sing the same stuff over and over” to which I’d reply “yeah, because they’re a funk band. You don’t say that about James Brown, do you?”. I haven’t said that yet, but I will one day. It’s a track that, if released by any pop star, upcoming or otherwise, it’d be a hit. Due to poor marketing and the fact it’s Jay Kay and his band as people like to refer to it as, this didn’t. It’s a shame because it’s definitely a radio favourite.

Similar song: This one is an original, but it has ballady elements of Falling from Synkronized.

Rating: 9/10

7. Lifeline

There seems to be two parts to this song: the country/rock/Motown vibe the verses carry along and the big band choruses. Might sound a bit weary from that description, but it does work. It’s a love song and for many, love songs are cheesy apart from the one that describes you and your partner. Luckily for me, this one does in a way (apart from the bit where it says my mother said we’d break up. That never happened). It’s nice and yet another radio favourite, but this one is probably destined for the Radio 2 playlist as opposed to the Radio 1/Heart FM listeners.

Similar song: A 70s rock version of You Are My Love from Travelling Without Moving

Rating: 7/10

8. She’s a Fast Persuader

This. Song. Rocks. My. Socks. Into. Space. I’m getting goosebumps just from writing about it. I doubt anyone on the planet or the universe can share that feeling but this track is absolutely awesome (I’m going to use a lot of astronomy words in this summary so stay with me). The opening spacey chords that lead into the opening drum beat (that fans will know from Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, an instrumental that didn’t quite make the Synkronized album but can be found here) and the synth bass… eargasmic. It’s really the chords that do it for me and the electric guitar, very 80s and very very good. This is the reason why White Knuckle Ride is my second favourite track of the year. This is what Jamiroquai do best and this is why I still love them.

Similar song: Space Cowboy (from Return of the Space Cowboy) mixed Feels So Good from A Funk Odyssey

Rating: 10/10

9. Two Completely Different Things

Jay Kay says it’s from Synkronized, Matt Johnson says it’s from Dynamite. It has elements of both albums but I’d probably side with Matt on this one. It’s very summery and feel good. You can certainly tell they had fun on this one and it’d be a good track to wake up to, providing you ignored the lyrics if you were waking up with a girlfriend.

Similar song: A slower summery version of Where Do We Go From Here from Synkronized

Rating: 7/10

10. Goodbye To My Dancer

Another title that had me laughing and scratching my head (this time I actually acted on my thoughts, but still didn’t laugh out loud) but I needn’t. For me, it’s one of the best fillers on this album. It has a mournful sound and takes an upfront approach in terms of the percussion section, a part of Jamiroquai sounds that goes unnoticed sometimes and by percussion, I mean Sola Akingbola as opposed to Derrick McKenzie (that man is a drumming beast!). It has a African/Latin kind of feel, which could be an overflow from the previous track and it works.

Similar song: Can’t think, feel free to help me out here

Rating: 7/10

11. Never Gonna Be Another

This one almost copies the chords from the previous tracks and adds to the melancholy. It’s sad and it hits the spot, so regardless of taste, it does its job well. Very quiet, spacey (in a different kind of way to Persuader) and low on production, it’s a good break up song if you’re tired of Boyz II Men End Of The Road (I know some people would call that viewpoint blasphemous but come on, this is 2010 and you’re not 14 anymore).

Similar song: Spend A Lifetime from Travelling Without Moving

Rating: 6.5/10

12. Hey Floyd

Now this is how you finish an album. Grand, majestic and multi-layered. It’d find a place on Synkronized, A Funk Odyssey or even Dynamite which makes it good enough to cover 12 years of music despite it being another 70s tribute. It starts off as a sermon to the titular Floyd who’s got his mind in a mess again; possibly the boy who was mentioned in Just Another Story, who knows. The song then moves into a reggae interlude, which is a perfect layer and something Jamiroquai have done sparingly but to great effect. When the original beat comes back though, it comes back heavy and hard, like a slap in the face much similar to what Floyd would probably be getting if he were real and I wasn’t treating this review like some kind of poetry analysis for my English Literature GCSE coursework.

Simliar song: Just Another Story from Return of the Space Cowboy and Black Capricorn Day from Synkronized

Rating: 9/10

Conclusion

I’ve excluded the bonus tracks as they are just live versions or remixes. All in all, this is a decent release from the band many thought couldn’t do it anymore. People wanted something new and they got it on some tracks. People wanted the old stuff back and they got that in abundance. Everyone should be happy, right? Wrong. The usual haters will continue to hate the wrong people:

“That Jamiroquai pisses me off he does. Sorry, he? Jamiroquai is the band. You mean Jay Kay.”

A common conversation and very annoying. Sure he fronts the band and he’s received most airtime over the years but he does write the music, along with the other band members and it’s not like the band have never featured in interviews or in videos. But I’m digressing from the main point.

This is a good comeback and with decent promotion, this would have got higher than number 7. It’s a more live and organic offering than in previous years and some may not like it but it’s better than them stagnating in the 90s. They’re behaving more like an indie band, which I don’t mind too much but it has affected their marketing and has probably hurt their initial album sales but perhaps Jay Kay doesn’t care and just wants to perform. A unique take for such a big band in this day and age but it certainly keeps the mega fans happy, me included. The average mark should be 7.8 but the album as a whole warrants 8/10. It’s a better album than it is an album of hits like a lot of albums out currently but either way, it’s going to be a white knuckle ride.

Final rating: 8/10