It’s thirteen years since Jamiroquai main man Jay Kay signed his unprecedented eight album deal with Sony’s S2 label. While much is made of the short-sightedness of British record companies, it’s only fair to credit Sony (now Sony/BMG) for the gamble. Back in 1992 Kay was a skinny white kid with a skateboard, a passion for vintage rare groove and a bizarre ‘Buffalo’ hat. Over twenty million albums, four world tours and 141 weeks on the UK singles chart later, it’s safe to say the gamble paid off.
From poster boy of the early nineties acid jazz revolution to international music icon, a lot has changed for Kay in those thirteen years.
Thanks to five albums of consistently on-point, danceable grooves and mercilessly unshakable melodies - not to mention an undisputed reputation as an electrifying live act - Kay’s as recognisable in France, Spain, Italy, South America, South Africa, Australia and Japan as he is to anyone who’s ever picked up a UK tabloid. While in America his status as one of the UK’s most respected exports is backed by an ever growing grass roots following, five MTV awards and a Grammy. Much to his amusement, of late Kay’s also become something of a style icon, as confirmed by his collection of Elle and GQ style awards.
With all that and a genuine rockstar lifestyle – the Buckinghamshire Manor; the garage full of fast cars - it would be understandable if the singer who signed his historic record deal while living in a squat in Ealing, west London, had spent the four years since Jamiroquai’s last album, 2001’s chart-topping ‘A Funk Odyssey’, enjoying the fruits of his success. But then complacency is one thing Kay will never be accused of.
“I’ve still got so much to prove,” he says of why he’s spent the best part of two years writing, recording and honing sixth album, ‘Dynamite’. “You’ve always got something to prove in this game. But the bottom line is I still love it. I love the thrill of seeing a track come together, and with this album we’ve been sitting with tracks, meticulously going through them, changing things, getting it right.”
Written and recorded in Spain, Italy, Costa Rica, Scotland, New York, Los Angeles and his own purpose built Buckinghamshire studio, ‘Dynamite’ is both a consolidation of thirteen years of Jamiroquai’s trademarked sci-fi sound and a cocky, two fingers to anyone who thinks that at 35, Kay might be resting on his country pile.
Single ‘Feels Just Like It Should’ for one is a ramped-up, high-octane snarl; Jamiroquai’s organic funk put through a digital grinder and pinned to a filthy groove. “Yeah, it’s really filthy. And that bass groove came from me pissing about as a human beatbox. You hear it and think what the fuck’s this? If you haven’t had an album out in four years you want to have an impact, and this says it, I’m back with a vengeance.”
‘Black Devil Car’ - ‘Cosmic Girl’ with guitars and a dirty mind – and the title track’s chic disco reinforce the larger than life, feelgood vibe, while the sweetly swaying ‘Seven Days In Sunny June’ is pure Jamiroquai romance, only with extra sunshine.
“It’s bigger,” says Kay of the new album’s frenetic pulse. “We recorded the whole album live, then digitally edged it, tightened it up, gave it a harder sound. But I also wanted to maximise the groove, to keep the verses sparse and the choruses big. ‘Dynamite’’s a groove and I wanted to nail it.”
As for inspiration, much of it came from time spent recording in America. “We went over there to get the best backing singers, best strings, best horns. And you know, just being in LA, watching life go by, all the beautiful ladies who lunch, that’s what ‘Dynamite’’s about. And mixing in New York, it just made me feel like I was back in the game.”
Yet while ‘Dynamite’ is undoubtedly an album of free-single-and-lovin’-it high-times, the presence of some of Kay’s most barbed lyrics to date, confirm it as a shot of much needed positivity for what he describes as “a really funked-up time for the world”.
It’s fitting that, in the year that the British government assumes the presidency of the G8 - with the promise of putting third world poverty and climate change at the top of the agenda - and with war raging on the nightly news, one of Britain’s biggest stars should be back, prodding the collective conscience.
From day one Kay’s had an opinion and he hasn’t been afraid to share it. Sadly his impassioned sleeve notes to Jamiroquai’s aptly titled 1993 No.1 debut, ‘Emergency On Planet Earth’ still ring true. Third world poverty; climate change; wars initiated by power hungry dictators; it’s all there.
Likewise, 1994’s ‘Return Of The Space Cowboy’, with its dark, inner-city social commentary is as raw as ever. Meanwhile, the album which took Jamiroquai global, 1997’s ‘Travelling Without Moving’, came with a worryingly prophetic warning of the dangers of biogenetic engineering. Not only was Grammy winning single ‘Virtual Insanity’ released on the day Dolly the Sheep was born, its concerns mirror those currently consuming the debate on human cloning and ‘donor’ babies.
After two deeply personal albums, 1999’s ‘Synkronized’ and 2001’s multi-platinum ‘A Funk Odyssey’, ‘Dynamite’ sees Kay re-entering the fray in typically forthright style. ‘The World He Wants’ is a half-time reflection on where the ‘leader’ of the free world is taking it; ‘Star Child’ questions the mindset of a world where TV evangelists are seen as moral guardians and thumping floor-filler ‘Give Hate A Chance’ is “an anthemic, DJ ready, sign of our times.”
“As the human race we aim to do nothing but kill and maim each other,” says Kay. “All we do is hate, hate, hate. And a lot of it seems to be done in the name of religion, which is what ‘Give Hate A Chance’ and ‘Star Child’ are about. We hate each other for all sorts of reasons: different religion, different colour, different way of thinking. It’s hate, hate, hate and I just think when is it going to end?”
For all the tabloid headlines, rockstar trappings and hats, it’d be a mistake to ever dismiss or underestimate Jay Kay. As his indisputable track record shows, he’s many things, but he’s no fool. And while his opinions, and fearless attitude when expressing them, might regularly set him up as a easy target for jaded cynics, even they will freely admit that music, and life, would be a good deal duller without him.
So prepare yourself for a vintage Jamiroquai year. With a string of turbo charged future hits, a meaner, leaner sound and Kay’s social conscience spoiling for a fight, ‘Dynamite’ time and again affirms his assertion: Jamiroquai is indeed, “back with a vengeance".