God Bless Our High Times -Jason Kay
A decade and a half is a long time to be at the top of your game; no matter what that game might be. In music, it's a near impossibility. While many set off as next big things, few stay the distance to arrive as genuine international icons. After 15 years, 159 weeks on the UK singles chart, 232 weeks on the albums chart, more than 20 million album sales and five mammoth world tours - playing to 5 million people in 38 countries - it's fair to sat that Jay Kay, the quick stepping 37 year-old professionally known as Jamiroquai, has finally made it.
What's more, he's got the 6 multi-platinum albums, 5 MTV awards, the Grammy, the Ivor Novello and enough lurid tabloid headlines to prove it. And now, just in case there was any doubt, he's got 'High Times - The Singles 1992-2006", a singles collection which rams home the point and tracks the decade and a half journey via his irresistible rare groove and unmistakable barbed disco.
It's an album which Kay has openly resisted for the best half of his career; determined that Jamiroquai's greatest hits wasn't going to be a couple of top tens and some well chosen filler. As it is, their 6 consistently on-point albums have proved such a reliable source of danceable hits, that there wasn't enough room to fit them all on the 19 track CD. For sure, the mark of a true pop survivor.
From the vanguard of the early '90s acid jazz revolution to one of the most recognisable musicians of a generation. From a squat in Ealing, West London, to a lush green Buckinghamshire Manor. From a skate board to a garage full of Ferrari's. The first 15 years of the Jamiroquai story has been nothing if not memorable. And, more importantly, from organic, horn-laden funk to computer-ramped glitter ball moments, every move has been soundtracked by Kay's bankable mix of sly grooves and addictive melodies.
Back in Ealing in 1992, the impact of one particular groove can't be overestimated. The minute 'When you Gonna Learn' was released on Acid Jazz, a career and a movement were born. Vintage jazz-funk, complete with sweet horn groove, string quartet and an impassioned eco-political message that was a decade ahead of its time, it rescued rare groove from the chin stroking few and introduced the world to Jay Kay, his big hat, quick feet and unique way of doing things.
The effect was instant. On the strength of that one song EMI Publishing got their cheque book out and Sony Records put their now fabled 8 album deal on the table. Not to be outdone, the music press branded him "a wannabe Stevie Wonder" - which Kay described as "flattering, misguided, but above all, boring" - and started one of the most enduring love-hate relationships in modern music.
Whatever his detractors said about the hats, the dancing, the loose-limbed funk or the save-the-planet message - in 1993 singing about pillaging ther planet, ending illegal wars and cancelling third world debt got you laughed at, today it gets you a knighthood - Jamiroquai's fans had the louder voice, giving him a top ten single with unshakable anti-war anthem 'Too Young to Die' and making 'Emergency on Planet Earth' the year's biggest selling debut album as it entered the charts at Number One.
A year later, Kay & Co continued to carve their own very distinct niche with second album, 'Return of the Space Cowboy'. Through a haze of drugs and frustration its darker grind and jaded inner-city social commentary established Jamiroquai as the face of British Urban music. Still to this day the song 'Return of the Space Cowboy' is Kiss FM's most played track of all time. Enough said really.
Still, it was down to third album, 1997's 'Travelling Without Moving', some logic defying dance moves and a moving sofa, to take Jamiroquai over the top and to the masses. The album was a slotting together of the pieces, all the planets coming into allignment. Kay's dedication to sly grooves, coalescing with the refinement of both his songwriting skills and pop sensibility, resulting in party anthems 'High Times' and 'Alright', 'Cosmic Girl"s intergalactic boogie and 'Virtual Insanity', and irresistibly catchy warning against genetic engineering, accompanied by a mind-bending video which captured the imagination and took Jamiroquai global.
By the time the dust settled, the album, singles and 'Virtual Insanity' video - directed by Jonathan Grazer and based on Kay's original idea - had netted 5 MTV Awards, a Grammy and an Ivor Novello, put Jamiroquai on the cover of USA Today and sold more than a million albums in America.
Since then Jamiroquai has been a firm fixture of the charts, the headlines and music television; their stunning collection of videos causing almost as much interest as Kay's private life. The voyage hasn't always been plain sailing, nor for that matter, a flurry of awards. Despite being the UK's biggest musical export of the '90s after Oasis and the Spice Girls, recognition in official circles has, at times, been thin on the ground - Jay Kay stands as The Brits unluckiest nominee, having yet to win after 15 nominations. But the good ship Jamiroquai is, "still floating" as Kay himself puts it, "because it was made with solid great lumps of oak, not cheap fibre glass."
As well as weathering pop's ever fickle tastes, Kay's groove devotion has also survived just about every music cliche going, from departing band mates to the rigours of the rock'n'roll lifestyle and all the excesses that go with it. In fact, Kay's positively thrived on adversity.
The (at the time) acrimonious departure of bass player Stuart Zender resulted in one of Jamiroquai's strongest albums to date, 1998's 'Synkronized', complete with singles 'Canned Heat' and UK Number 1 'Deeper Underground'. Similarly, at a time when Kay's personal life was constantly on the front pages, he delivered club classic 'Little L' and 2001's shimmering dance album, 'A Funk Odyssey', the second biggest selling of Jamiroquai's career.
And with his dark days of over-indulgence firmly behind him, Kay tackled the tricky issue of a comeback with 2005's banner-waving declaration of health, 'Dynamite', which garnered both the best reviews of Jamiroquai's career, and a second Grammy nomination, this time for the ferocious grind of lead single, 'Feels Just Like It Should'.
Which brings us up-to-date, to the here and now and the question of how to follow such a staggering catalogue of hits. Well, new tracks 'Runaway' and 'Radio' certainly live up to Kay's claim to have "plenty more cracking stuff to come."
"There's a hell of a lot of pressure to come up with two new hit singles for your greatest hits, but I think we've cracked it," said Kay of 'Runaway"s glistening disco strings and 'Radio"s salacious rock hook. "We're very pleased with them. We just went straight for the kill. I wanted to do something very instant which they both are. I love 'em."
"Radio's great fun, a cheeky little track about when you meet a lovely young lady and find out that she likes girls even more than she likes boys. I think we'll leave it at that." 'Runaway', on the other hand, like all Jay's best disco moments, comes from a slightly more poignant place. "I really like the sentiment. I think it's something everyone can relate to. 'I just want to runaway'. Sometimes you do feel that you just want out. When the pressure's on, you just want to leave all this behind."
But fans and detractors alike can relax. 'High Times - Singles 1992-2006' is very much volume one of the greatest hits, he's not ready to retire just yet.
"I like the sense of closure it has about it," says Kay. "I've closed that chapter of my career and I'm ready to start the next. We've already got tracks lined-up that are very different. Very exciting. So it makes sense to do the greatest hits now. It feels like the right time, in readiness for the next phase."
That Kay's already planning the next phase of the Jamiroquai saga is indeed, good news. Because not only is he the last of a dying breed: the genuine rock star - from the near indecent obsession with Italian sports cars to designing his own signature range for Hugo Boss - he's also a genuine character. In an era when everything's a sanitised sound bite, jay Kay is one man who can be relied upon for his full, frank and unedited opinion. For that alone he should be applauded. But most of all, as 'High Times - Singles 1992-2006' proves with every single frenetic track, music, like life, would be a hell of a ot duller without him.
Jason Kay - Vocals
Derrick McKenzie - Drums
Sola Akingbola - Percusionist
Rob Harris - Guitar
Matt Jhonson - Key Boards
Paul Turner - Bass