Do you remember the 1990s, when all shades of pop music briefly flourished, through the medium of the one-hit-wonder on Top of the Pops, before briefly fizzling out? Life’s constants were chiefly innocent manufactured pop groups like Boyzone, Take That, Spice Girls—trade blocs whose domination was tolerated because of their lack of offence. And, somehow, an acid jazz collective fronted by a hat- and car-lover became an actual big deal.
It might be that album-wise, the apotheosis of Jamiroquai was 1996’s Travelling Without Moving. But for their finest five minutes, you have only to look to the opening track of the album which followed this. The pre-millennial Synkronized kicks off with “Canned Heat”, which sees classic disco influences seeping into their chart-friendly jazz. An orchestral flourish ushers the listener into a heady—but ultimately innocuous—slice of funk. The strings permeate through virtually every phrase, sending Jay Kay’s distinctive vocal phrasings skywards. Phat bass-lines swap between disco octaves and a kind of synthesised slap-bass riff. Twinkles of overdriven Rhodes and Clavinet summon memories of Stevie Wonder and the acme of soul. This is emphasised in the final minute, wherein subtle bongos fill out the spaces between the four-to-the-floor rhythm.
Is it not peculiar that no subsequent scene in music has explicitly nodded to Jamiroquai? For sure, their music was utterly derivative when boiled down to its root elements—the aforementioned presence of soul and funk greats (consider the closeness of “Virtual Insanity” and Luther Vandross’s “Never Too Much“), more than a whiff of Prince in Jay Kay’s falsetto and the predominant texture of the keys. But this surprisingly compelling melange still crops up now and again: if you want to be startled, listen to Hercules And Love Affair’s “This Is My Love“, and compare it with Jamiroquai’s “Alright“. We think of H&LA as channelling decades of disco music in the spirit of the best historian—so why do the efforts of Jay Kay and his chums go unappreciated?
In fact, the only wider cultural reference I can think of having been bequeathed to Jamiroquai is a brief, pivotal scene in Napoleon Dynamite (see above video), in which the titular protagonist wins over an audience of his dubious schoolmates in order to promote his friend’s election campaign by unexpectedly boogying to “Canned Heat”. It’s essentially apropos of nothing, and maybe it is that by-the-wayside quality of Jamiroquai’s music that earned it a place in the scene. Perhaps it is the case that we just don’t think of these passing fancies of the 1990s as being created with the intention of having cultural impact down the line.