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British dance band broadens U.S. horizons

Vince Labriola | Thursday, September 8, 2005

Famous in the late 1990’s for their VMA-winning single “Virtual Insanity,” the British-born dance group Jamiroquai has since been largely ignored by American audiences, despite attaining superstar status across the pond some years ago. It may come as a surprise then that “Dynamite,” the group’s latest, is actually their sixth album and will be in stores on Sept. 20. It’s a perfect starting point for anyone who would like to discover, or re-discover, one of the premier dance groups out there.

Jamiroquai revolves around its tabloid-friendly front man, Jay Kay. Discovered in near poverty, a single demo disc he created bought him an unprecedented eight-CD deal from Sony/BMG. The group’s initial offering, “Emergency on Planet Earth,” was released in the UK with considerable European success thereafter.

It wasn’t until 1996’s “Traveling Without Moving” that Jamiroquai (Jay Kay and his consistently-changing band mates) reached a wide American audience. Backed by the eye-catching video for “Insanity” and a dance hit with “Cosmic Girl,” the band could be seen on MTV for quite some time. Jamiroquai’s next few albums, however, never became popular in the U.S., and as a result the band faded into relative obscurity until very recently.

Enter Napoleon Dynamite. That song Napoleon dances to? That’s “Canned Heat,” off of Jamiroquai’s excellent 1999 release “Synkronized.”

Riding on the heels of their cameo appearance in one of the biggest success stories in independent film comes “Dynamite,” an album that is edgier and less musically complex than some of its predecessors, but thrilling nonetheless.

“Dynamite” is a synthesizer-based album, and Jay Kay’s signature bass machine riffs are featured on nearly every track, swirling furiously beneath the melodies. The album begins with the excellent opening number “Feels Just Like It Should.” A slick, dirty, distorted disco-influenced track that has Jay Kay shouting, “Slips in, feels good / I love it when you tell me / It feels just like it should.”

Gone is the lighter pop fare that characterized Jamiroquai’s earlier albums, replaced with a relentless, darker sound that explores new avenues in the band’s musical possibilities.

The next track, given the same name as the album, is a traditional dance club number filled with repetitious choruses begging to be shouted out loud. Again, the darker, more explicit lyrics make appearances in highlights like “Black Devil Car” and “Electric Mistress,” which again call attention to the hyperactive musical arrangements Jamiroquai prefers.

However, the highlight of the album is the fantastic “Seven Days In Sunny June,” a dynamic ballad that is masterfully crafted and filled with sad, intriguing lyrics that reveal what the entire album really is about: a single guy looking for love in all the wrong places. Tracks like “Feels Just Like It Should” and “Black Devil Car” deal with the sexual aspects of the lifestyle, while “Seven Days In Sunny June” deals with the emotional aspect, as Jay Kay croons, ” I’ve wanted you so long / Why’d you have to drop that bomb on me / You said we’ve been friends too long.”

There is something blatantly honest about the lyrics in “Dynamite,” even when they seem to move from one end of the spectrum to the other. The album exudes the feeling of a group that really wants to make good music, and the result is an exciting new album that doesn’t disappoint.