Twenty years after “Virtual Insanity” gained Jamiroquai massive success, including the band’s best-known song in America, and seven years after their last album, the band returns with Automaton, a strong statement on life in 2017. Disconnection runs rampant across this album, despite catchy hooks and dance-laden tracks, as Jay Kay and the band drive a division between our interests and our pursuits. The group highlights our experiences and simultaneously our distractions when we go out, when we come into contact with others, and when we listen to music across Automaton.
My familiarity with Jamiroquai waned significantly before the band’s seven-year hiatus and the gap between albums, but this album drew me in and never let go. The visuals presented by the music and lyrics of the title track and lead single are complemented by the video with Jay Kay as the eponymous “Automaton”, exploring a wasteland set of sewers and abandoned beach adorned with a unique technological headdress (as the singer often wears unique head gear to criticism and compliment). Sequenced after “Shake It On” in the album’s tracklisting, there is a definite sense of identifying what we are missing every day with our reliance and allegiance to mass media, the like button, and the #hashtag.
Building on the theme of breaking disconnection by interaction and exploration, “Cloud 9”, “Superfresh”, and “Hot Property”, document the relevance of personal connections and participation in a community. Jay Kay’s lyrics reference dystopian films and the limitations of relationships built in a digital landscape, while the music in these tracks deserves to dominate a dancefloor and cultivate in that environment. Automaton sounds dystopian as a title, but the band pushes for hope and optimism despite reliance on aspects of society increasingly lost by technology and solitude.
With “Something About You”, the band is fully out of the shell of those themes and goes forth to focus solely on the personal connections built through dancing and shared moments. The next track illustrates this transition back smoothly, “Summer Girl” is fun, hot, and deserves a prolonged remix on the dancefloor. The track is Jamiroquai’s “Summer Girl” and it’s just in time to go out and get a “Summer Girl” at the club and enjoy the connection made. It drives the fun, dance-laden grooves on this album, looking past dystopian effects explored in the opening tracks before the band starts to return to those themes slightly with “Nights Out in the Jungle.”
Themes of death and destruction return with “Dr. Buzz”, and the lyrical calls to Sergio Leone films and the lawlessness of the Old West mark the album’s return to the solitude and loneliness experience in modern life. The concluding lyrics pleading for an antagonist not to shoot the song’s focus identify the prospect of redemption despite lost humanity carried by the album’s title and the mood. The final tracks of Automaton plead for saving, “We Can Do It” and “Vitamin” focus on the prospects of human contact, and the impact of music as a catalyst for reborn relationships. The closing track “Carla” completes that vibe, with a new love found to document an escape from the isolation of the album’s first tracks.
Automaton closes on a strong feeling of redemption, with both Jay Kay’s lyrics, and the band’s music providing optimistic flow and positive vibes not dissimilar from the album’s opening dystopia, but progressive enough to end on a completely different note. The album is full of dance-worthy hooks, dreamy in numerous places, but enjoyable throughout. They may not find new listeners after a seven-year hiatus, but Automaton by Jamiroquai is a strong return and experimental contribution to popular music from a band too often identified solely for one song and its striking video.
// Notes from the Road
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