If 2005’s Dynamite was indeed as “sterile” as frontman Jay Kay has since claimed, then Jamiroquai’s latest is a calculated effort to return to a more organic funk sound. Rock Dust Light Star is the group’s first release in five years, and though Britain’s dance floors have been abducted by dubstep and drum n’ bass since then, the album seems to show complete disregard for the contemporary musical climate: Saxophone solos lead forays into 1970s blaxploitation disco, sweeping string sections underpin mellifluous moments and forceful thumpers alike, while Jay Kay swaggers through the album’s 12 tracks with his quirky falsetto. It may not be edgy or innovative, but Rock Dust Light Star showcases vintage Jamiroquai at their catchiest and most confident.
The group plays it safe with “She’s a Fast Persuader” and lead single “White Knuckle Ride,” classic-sounding Jamiroquai numbers blessed with irrefutable grooves. As is almost customary for artists returning from such a lengthy hiatus, the latter serves to show that the group isn’t planning to alienate their faithful fanbase by suddenly reinventing themselves. Their trusted formula, then, is to have Jay Kay’s falsetto gliding atop groovy electric basslines and the funkiest synth hooks this side of outer space. The results are a sort of postmodern disco-funk, served with all the trappings of ‘70s funk and all the feverish sensibilities of the glitterball era.
Rock Dust Light Star also seems like Jamiroquai’s most confident hour to date, with strings playing a more prevalent role than in any of their previous outings. “Blue Skies” is a warm ballad with a gorgeous string arrangement, while “Lifeline” and “Hey Floyd” make use of staccato strings to create two throbbing dance tunes. Moreover, Jay Kay and company toy with their songs’ structural dynamic, if only for the hell of it. “Hey Floyd” opens with a bout of tribal percussion, bursts into an epic refrain, and finds its verses somewhere between Transylvania and Kingston, Jamaica in an offbeat reggae break.
This is, however, the closest Rock Dust Light Star gets to even attempting any sort of expansion on the classic Jamiroquai sound. For the most part, this is an album that sticks to the staples that have served Britain’s premier funk outfit so well until now. And while it’s a wonder in itself that the group hasn’t begun to sound stale yet, it’s a shame that they don’t feel more obliged to venture from their comfort zone, however comfortable that zone many be.