Jamiroquai's fifth album, 2001: A Funk Odyssey, is an intergalactic break dance across a lighted disco floor. Dipping and spinning, it flirts with Bootsy Collins, steals moves from Stevie Wonder, rubs elbows with the Basement Jaxx, and casts shy glances at Elton John. While Jay Kay, the tree-hugging, gas-guzzling front man has changed silly hats once again on this album, the familiar disco-funk hasn't received such an overhaul. Much like the last four releases, 2001 is bland background party music with a few moments that sparkle (as long as there are enough drugs at the club).
The album opens with "Feels So Good", a polyester journey through outer space. Wind chimes twinkle in a swirling black hole, high-hats deliver saltshaker beats over a bubbly funk bass, and clucking tribal sounds flow into an electro breakdown. It's an effortless blend of funk reverence and high-tech dance gadgetry that smoothly sets up the rest of the album. Throughout this 48-minute LP, groovy bass lines, gooey back-up singers, and disco hand claps slip into high-speed blips and Daft Punk-esque computerization. This funkadelic recipe should be the basis for a great dance record, but 2001 still manages to fall flat.
Or maybe Jamiroquai just pulls off the techno-disco combo too well. After all, both genres are prone to cheesiness and over-production, and 2001: A Funk Odyssey is so slick it's farcical. With luminous brass and a synthetic symphony, the album takes on an epic quality comparable to the score of a Disney musical. This ridiculous grandeur peaks with "Corner of the Earth", a laughable love letter to Jay Kay's home that combines a "cowboy riding into the sunset" beat with Saturday Night Fever orchestration and plenty of ooh-ahh-la-la-las.
The merger of over-the-top disco silliness with starship sound effects serves as a metaphor for Jay Kay's own dichotomies. Kay spews eco-consciousness to a nauseating level (the band name reflects his empathy for the displaced Iroquois and their Earth-loving ideals), yet he owns a slew of super-powered sports cars and an ultra-posh country home. And 2001: A Funk Odyssey has as many references to Kay's celebrity ex-girlfriend, Denise Van Outen, as it does to recycling.
But it's not like the lyrical content matters that much anyway -- Jay Kay's environmental rants simply get lost in the fluff. Even with songwriting help from newest band member, Rob Harris, lyrics such as "Like every hummingbird and bumblebee, every sunflower, cloud and every tree / Nature's got me high and it's beautiful" are best ignored. As with Jamiroquai's previous albums, 2001 is more concerned with having fun than making meaningful social change.
The major difference between 2001: A Funk Odyssey and Travelling Without Moving or Synkronized, is the lack of didgeridoo meandering. Yet in an attempt to remain as multicultural as they are corny, the band has picked up bossa nova beats and jazzy guitar work on "Black Crow" and eastern bells on "Corner of the Earth". A few songs even manage to break out of smiley land and unveil a level of grittiness. "Stop! Don't Panic" and "2001" are charged with dirty beats, distorted guitar synths, and ray-gun aggression, adding energy to an otherwise predictable album. 2001:A Funk Odyssey ends appropriately with the hyper-speed disco jam, "Do It Like We Used to Do". Jay Kay may be spinning a little faster and kicking a little higher, but ultimately his dance moves haven't changed a bit.