Explosive new disco from Jamiroquai

ON POPULAR MUSIC

September 22, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

It's something I do from time to time when I'm either bored or stressed out: I go to my own disco. The ambience - pretty people, swirling lights, mirrored balls - is all imaginary. But the music is real. I just crank up the surround-sound speakers and dance and sweat around the living room.

My best friend worries about me. She says I should get out and do this more often in real clubs among real people - you know, mix; be social. I get out to clubs when I'm the mood. But I often have more fun in my own boogie wonderland. Besides, I can play what I want how many times I want. And in the mix, there's always plenty of Jamiroquai.

Ever since the British funk-pop-dance outfit made a big splash in the United States with 1996's Traveling Without Moving, I've been a fan. Some critics didn't warm to Jamiroquai - particularly the group's focal point, flamboyant lead singer and chief songwriter Jay Kay. They accused him of copping too many of Stevie Wonder's vocal licks. Well, yeah, you hear influences. What male pop artist who's appeared since Songs in the Key of Life hasn't been influenced by the Motown legend? But Jay is no Stevie, and the slight performer with the penchant for eye-catching head gear has never really tried to be. He is one fly white guy, though, whose music is irresistibly funky and unabashedly retro with grooves deep in the pocket.

Jamiroquai's new album, in stores this week, is called Dynamite. It's the band's first CD since 2001's overlooked A Funk Odyssey.

"For the States, it's taken a while to get something new out because the last one was released on Sept. 11, so nobody heard that," says Jay, who's calling from London. "It took a while to get things together for the record. We were recording all over the world."

In his time away from the studio, Jay also took time to wrestle with personal demons, namely a coke habit, which he kicked cold turkey. When he was ready to refocus on music, the 35-year-old artist brought in an outside producer for the first time: Mike Spencer, known for his work with Kylie Minogue. Recording was done in Spain, Italy, Costa Rica, Scotland, New York, Los Angeles and Jay's studio in Buckinghamshire, England.

Dynamite, an 11-cut set, isn't markedly different from the band's previous five albums. You get modern disco tunes and sleek mid-tempo jams with Jay's piquant, slightly raspy delivery pushing the songs. The overall sound of the new music, however, boasts a harder digital edge.

"It was the first time we played everything live and stuck it in Pro Tools," says Jay, referring to the audio editing and sound design program used on many of today's recordings. "We wanted to give the music a different sound. It was tweaked endlessly to compete with what's out there already."

With heavier beats, manipulated guitar lines and odd digital textures, Dynamite is less organic than Jamiroquai's other efforts. It's charged, sci-fi disco that updates elements of Chic and Parliament-Funkadelic. On the blistering funk-electronica mash-up, "Feels Just Like It Should," Jay uses his voice to provide the fuzzy bass line. The album's first single, the explosive track kicks off Dynamite.

"I wanted to come hard with a vengeance," Jay says with a quick, impish giggle. "The groove in that song, man, is nasty."

Indeed it is. "Starchild" is another killer groove thick with chunky guitar lines, busy polyrhythms and a strutting, energetic vocal by Jay.

"Mike has tightened things up," the artist says of his co-producer. "It's where we had to go - not stuffing so much into it, not so hurried. It's hard for me to judge the record. I haven't listened to it since we made it."

Dynamite is a slightly uneven album that putters a bit toward the end. The sonic hardness of the pointed "Give Hate a Chance" is a bit overbearing. "World that He Wants," a forced, almost weepy ballad that takes a swipe at President Bush, doesn't seem to fit the otherwise irreverent, party-up vibe. Though "Hot Tequila Brown," the last track, isn't exactly a throwaway, it feels pedestrian compared with the record's strong first half.

"I just try to be good at what I do," Jay says. "You got to enjoy the music and be enthused about it. You try to make something memorable."

Sure. Whenever I'm ready to go to boogie wonderland, I never forget to slip in a Jamiroquai CD.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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