Wondering where the long-delayed new studio album from Stevie Wonder went? Perplexed as to why it’s been removed from the upcoming releases roster, not once, but twice in the last two years?
Maybe we should ask Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay, the British neo-funkmeister who needs to seriously consider depositing his song royalties straight into Wonder’s checking account. Under the guise of space cowboy and beneath fluffy Seuss hats, Kay’s shtick is both intoxicating and cheap: when he opens his mouth, sultry music escapes, slinky, moonwalkable stuff with a stale bouquet, like the scents from an Innervisions yard sale filtered through a 20-year wormhole. Is this the future? A giant recycling heap stored inconspicuously below a sequined dance floor? In its breakthrough 1996 single, Jamiroquai opined that the imminent future was “virtual insanity”. Ten years later, “virtual” still clouds up much of the crystal ball—Dynamite is virtually a 21st century rehash of classic soul, served with a side of disco kitsch. Is Dynamite really Wonder youthfully repackaged or has it sent Wonder into damage control mode, afraid he’d appear to be imitating an imitator?
Does it really matter? Jamiroquai just wants to groove us, wants to get our feet bubbling to big distorted, chunky riffs (“Feels Just Like It Should”), spit-shined disco glides that hiccup like Prince’s “Kiss” on a Studio 54 budget (“Dynamite”), and pixilated soul for the Nintendo generation (“Electric Mistress”). As long as they flaunt the bluesy guitar licks (“Black Devil Car”) and shower us with major seventh chords (“Seven Days in Sunny June”), will we bite, completely oblivious to where they were hijacked from? “Starchild” is a damn good slice of undeniable, so should we care if its verses are nothing more than “Superstition” in a flimsy disguise?
The main reason it’s so hard to embrace such likeable music is that it’s blatantly transparent. Kay and company may mimic the façade of their idols impeccably, but their songs have vapid centers. The operative word in “soul music” is soul, man, and we’ve got to be able to see and feel it, not just look through it. Kay’s voice is like velvet touching the magic place, affecting Curtis Mayfield falsetto in “Feels Just Like It Should” and Stevie Wonder sass in just about everything else, but he’s got little to say beyond the oft-heard club pick-up line. Ladies, you’ll remember such repetitive, grope-accompanying pleas as: “Girl, you got the look”, “Let’s burn this highway down”, “She’s just a love machine”, and, if you happened to reject one of those, “Why’d you have to drop that bomb on me?” Dynamite may aim for a space on the shelves next to the classics, but it’s merely club music made for anonymous bump-and-grinds, something to stain the armpits of T-shirts and accelerate other social lubricants.
When the Jamiroquai libido wanes, socially conscious topics bubble to the surface. Because who doesn’t like to talk politics after a feisty romp in the sack? The syrupy piano ballad “World That He Wants” and Pointer Sisters jamboree “(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance” feel calculated when sandwiched between the humid odes to horniness. It’s at times like these that you wish Jamiroquai just stuck to doing what it does best: thieving attitude from the greats while embarking on the ultimate hook-up quest.