Funk and Peace on Planet Home
“Hoping we can live in peace until the year 3000. No More War on Planet Home.”
—Jamiroquai, Synkronized liner notes, 1999.
Jamiroquai is as much a “what” as a “who”. The latter is a group led by the most quintessential of front mans, Jay Kay. (The band’s name is a marriage of “jam” and “Iroquois”.) The former is what concerns this collection of Jamiroquai’s greatest hits—a unique style of music unto itself that recalls the cream of R&B-derived disco, more than anything, but also incorporates musical sensibilities of a not-too-distant future. Any listener who recognizes that iconic figure with the horns and out-turned feet can attest to Jamiroquai’s intoxicating fusion of grooves for the body and mind. After all, few bands churn out contagious funk while singing about ecological disaster. That alone makes Jamiroquai great and High Times: Singles 1992-2006 a must to the discriminating music listener’s collection.
Rewind to 1992. “When You Gonna Learn” could have been that one song by that great band nobody ever heard from again, but Jamiroquai had so much creative synergy between its band members that they needed a whole album to fully explore its potency. Sony signed Jamiroquai on the strength of “When You Gonna Learn” and followed with the release of Emergency on Planet Earth (1993). On that first single, Jay Kay warned “Armageddon’s near”, but listen to those lilting horns, the drone of the didgeridoo, the soulful performance by Jay Kay. Hey, if Armageddon’s near, we might as well dance, and that’s been the thrust of some of Jamiroquai’s best work, all captured on this stellar compilation. “Emergency on Planet Earth”, “(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance”, “Deeper Underground”, and “Virtual Insanity” are bracing invitations to the dance floor, even when espousing all that’s wrong with humanity.
“Virtual Insanity”, from the uniformly excellent Traveling Without Moving (1996), was Jamiroquai’s break out single in the U.S., bolstered in part by a high-profile video on MTV. Unfortunately, Jamiroquai was commercially successful in the U.S. only as long as they represented some sort of soulful throwback, part of the U.S. music scene’s fascination with fads predicated upon nostalgia. (Nobody represents this phenomenon better than Brian Setzer.) No matter. Jay Kay and company stayed true to the groove and those who dipped into the water with them got drenched in discofied funk.
Matters of the heart also concerned Jamiroquai, whether lustful (“Cosmic Girl”), emotional (“Little L”) or whimsical (“Seven Days in Sunny June”). In fact, “Seven Days in Sunny June” (Dynamite, 2005), which glided into the UK Top 20 in 2005, stands as the best of the best collected here. The melody mirrors the emotional shift in the lyrics, word for word. “Oooh/ So baby let’s get it on/ Drinking wine and killing time/ Sitting in the summer sun/ You know/ I wanted you so long/ Why’d you have to drop that bomb on me.” The key change in the melody on that last line, though subtle, brilliantly reflects the false hopes contained in the preceding lyrics. Because Jamiroquai’s hits may be overly familiar to fans by this point, it’s easy to take for granted how expertly crafted the songs are at close listen.
The obligatory new tracks tagged on to the end High Times are the anti-dote to the bleak picture painted by another of Jamiroquai’s very best, “(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance”. “Runaway”, with its slight influence of Nile Rodgers’ guitar-scratches, boasts an infectious chorus while “Radio” is a rock-driven chunk of space-age funk with Jay Kay pursuing yet another “cosmic girl” of his dreams. Both tracks are welcome additions to the Jamiroquai discography.
Listening to High Times: Singles 1992-2006 unveils an impressive musical consistency that’s strengthened over 14 years. Most importantly, the music is as good now as it was then and High Times encapsulates the highlights of a band who’s far from finished. If you missed the party the first time around, High Times shows what you’ve been missing.
// Notes from the Road
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