Sound — 6
Jamiroquai have always been the supplier for a dated dose of dance music throughout the '90s, but in the following decade when dance music was expanding, Jamiroquai's nu funk music started to peter out. 2001's "A Funk Odyssey" and 2005's "Dynamite" began crossing over into soft rock and alternative rock, and in 2010, when the aggressive bass of dubstep and electro-house were starting to grow more popular, Jamiroquai dabbled with blues rock alongside their funk/disco sound in their seventh album, "Rock Dust Light Star."
In the following years when Jamiroquai were working on album number eight, EDM became all the rage worldwide - young upstarts like Avicii and Martin Garrix swept the charts with their infectious progressive house beats, while rock bands began incorporating EDM characteristics in their music for better and for worse. But alongside that overly-polished dance music, there was also a reinvigorated interest in classic dance music, whether it was from new electro-funk/disco revival acts like Justice and Chromeo, or from the long-awaited return of Daft Punk in their 2013 album "Random Access Memories."
Given that latter trend of "everything old is new again," Jamiroquai's eighth album, "Automaton," comes at an opportune time of nostalgic freshness. But also responding to the ubiquitous status of modern EDM, Jamiroquai's sound is much more governed by electronica this time around. As opposed to the guitar parts taking the spotlight in their last couple of albums, synth arpeggios act as the pumping pistons powering songs for the retro dance arrangements to build themselves around, whether in the funky "Shake It On," the synthpoppy eponymous song, the disco-tinged "Superfresh," or the modular rubberband bassline in "Carla."
Beyond that new development, Jamiroquai's disco/funk foundation is still as well-stocked as can be, but it wears out its welcome the further "Automaton" goes on. In an expectedly consistent medley of dance guitars, funky bass grooves, and disco string melodies, few distinctions can be made between songs. "Dr. Buzz" sets itself apart with its bass throbs and guitar/sax solos, as does the speedy and seductive "Vitamin," but other songs like "Something About You," "Summer Girl," "Nights Out In The Jungle," and "We Can Do It" toil in funky tediousness.
Lyrics — 7
For the most part, Jay Kay's lyrics in "Automaton" stay at the benchmark of disco subject matter: Love, heartbreak, and dancing no matter the situation. With that, Jay Kay's lyrics become similarly homogenous as the album's sound, bouncing between cheery infatuation ("I'd do anything, it's true / To get another dance with you" in "Superfresh"; "I need you, summer girl / I want you in my world" in "Summer Girl"), relationship blues ("I'm thinking all the time I used to want to be with you / But I know now it ain't working" in "Vitamin"; "My heart is stone, baby, why'd you have to be so mean?" in "Something About You"), and rebounding back ("I'm in love, and now I'm moving on / Gonna be a freak tonight" in "Shake It On"; "You lost my love / But now someone found it" in "Cloud 9").
Jay Kay still finds some moments to insert some deeper lyrics into "Automaton," however. He speaks on the woes of reality that go to get lost in the glitz and glamor of dance music, from observing a night out clubbing with a caustic perspective in "Nights Out In The Jungle" ("Rich kids in their supercars / Plastic gangsters, washed-out movie stars / Angels in their stripperwear / Baby, I'm so wasted I don't care"), to drinking away the troubles of a modern world in "Dr. Buzz" ("You have to wonder where the money's going / It all depends what side of town you're on"). But to end the album on a sincerely positive note, Jay Kay writes about the joy of fatherhood and his love for his daughter in "Carla" ("I see your innocence in every look / You're my sunshine, I feel music in your love").
Overall Impression — 5
In theory, a Jamiroquai record that adds more synth elements to its nu funk backbone is a solid recipe for dance music in 2017. But unlike how the band's previous albums explored different genres, "Automaton" doesn't add enough to remodel its baseline style. The album may have some strong moments, but the singular sound heard from front to back loses its potency over time.