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May 14

JAMIROQUAI – “Deeper Underground”

Popular73 comments • 3,124 views

#796, 25th July 1998

jamzilla Another early 90s press darling scores another late 90s number one – except the reaction isn’t “Wow” this time but “what kept you?”. Within a year or two of turning up, Jamiroquai had moved from The Face’s anointed to a bona fide UK best-seller. By 1996, they’d built a solid global audience and were briefly the toast of MTV for “Virtual Insanity”. They were big. But – plenty of airplay notwithstanding – their singles belied their size. That one tremendous video aside, Jamiroquai were a steady presence in pop, never a dominating one.

Or maybe that was just my myopia. They were more fashionable than Simply Red ever were, but they seemed to tick some very similar boxes: decent voice, commendable influences, social concerns, and singers with a tabloid-friendly lifestyle. Something else in common, too: I didn’t like them much. Was it the stylistic lifts – that studied replication of Stevie Wonder in full finger-clicking ecstasy? Not really – except that it forced me to admit I didn’t enjoy that stuff much either. But maybe the choice of that as an inspiration got closer to what bugged me – Jamiroquai’s songs seemed indulgent and baggy, like they’d taken liberated looseness as a bedrock for structure, not as a break out of it.

But here Jay Kay is, finally riding to the top on the back of a giant lizard, and it suits him. “Deeper Underground” takes his band’s characteristic slackness and applies it to paranoia, coming up with an enjoyably un-specific and timely bit of millenarian pop. “I’m going deeper underground, from all the panic that I found” – a nervy, breath-starved guitar line backs Jay Kay up on his decision. The streets aren’t safe, society’s breaking, the breadheads are in charge – it’s the same themes, half a world and two decades away, that animated Kay’s influences. For the 70s soul men he loved, those social problems were the harshest of worldly issues – you wrestled with them every day with no great hope of resolution in this generation, but no opt-out either.

Here they’re the backdrop to a monster movie, and this is the jauntiest of crises. Just as most romcom themes – “Love Is All Around”, say – would suit almost any romcom, “Deeper Underground” does Godzilla proud but could also fit a lot of Hollywood’s late-90s output. Of course it’s the “New York city streets” under threat – where else could it be? It was a happy moment when devastated cities – and the promise of more – were titillation, a flirtation in the direction of some greater fantasised then averted collapse.

And on the popcorn level, “Deeper Underground” delivers the fun, the thrills, the special effects. There’s a ton to enjoy in the music here – the ridiculous loom of the intro, the gorgeous fuzzy texture of the keyboard lines, the heartbeat bass on the middle eight – and Jay Kay is itchy with energy, lunging at the start of every verse. I always felt Jamiroquai fancied themselves as a band with something to say, but here their social conscience is just another bit of widescreen texture, and frankly it works better.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    flahr on 29 May 2014 #

    Certainly interesting, and I will probably go and listen to some more of their stuff after this because I can sense some good somewhere*, but for me “Deeper Underground” doesn’t quite gel, its ideas don’t quite fit together and it doesn’t have the high powered thrillz of “Setting Sun” (though obviously that’s a comparison by which most is gonna fail). Something like a 4, I fear.

    *lies: actually I will probably just go back to listening to Clean Bunny

  2. 2
    lartsaegis on 29 May 2014 #

    This is actually a pretty weak Jamiroquai song for me (certainly among the singles that SHOULD HAVE gotten number one, especially those that came before it — Space Cowboy, VIRTUAL INSANITY, hello?!, and even those that are on the same album — CANNED HEAT, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE, hello!?), a long time Jamiroquai fan — so I was doubly surprised you rated it so highly seeing as you aren’t really a fan of them. I’m glad they got their due some time though. That said, as an American lad, I’d no conception of Jay Kay being the publicized individual he was until way later — I remember being really shocked that he dated Winona Ryder, and further more that he broke up with her for being too sexually forward with him. Go figure.

    for more info of the aformentioned, look here: http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/celebrity/Jay+Kay-4204.html

  3. 3
    Tom on 29 May 2014 #

    #2 I wondered actually if this is something where the actual fans of an act don’t like it or think it’s a weak entry – it feels quite uncharacteristic of them, which is obviously fine by me! But not fine by loyalists.

    Jay Kay’s tabloid presence was more to do with his cars (and hats) than his romances to be honest.

  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 29 May 2014 #

    I was surprised as well how much I enjoyed this as I developed an allergic reaction to Jay Kay (?) and his music at the time. To my ears he usually seemed to be making up the lyrics as he went along and from a limited choice of words and themes. Being forced to meet the demands of the movie seems to have imposed a little more structure and the music sounds a lot rockier – almost Beastie Boy like – than the usual by-the-yard Stevie Wonder-isms.
    FWIW Wiki informs me that the video was filmed at the cinema in Hays in Essex which means I’ve been there.

  5. 5
    Kinitawowi on 29 May 2014 #

    Virtual Insanity, Cosmic Girl, Alright, Too Young To Die, Emergency On Planet Earth, Space Cowboy, Canned Heat… anything but this. If ever there was a complete waste of a number one spot in a summer week where nobody cared, this was it. Not even a robbed number two to get indignant about (that was just Another Level).

    Shame, because they’ve made some great stuff. This was not it.

    5 as a long service award, maybe 2 on its own merits… I’ll average it out. (And round up.)

    4.

  6. 6
    mapman132 on 29 May 2014 #

    I’m surprised to see you refer to Jamiroquai as an act that broke America, as to me they’re an example of a group that never became as big in the US as perhaps they should have been. “Virtual Insanity” was of course a huge MTV hit, and got some radio airplay along the way, and “Canned Heat” eventually became known as the song that Napoleon Dynamite danced to. But neither one hit the Hot 100 – I’m guessing VI wasn’t released as a commercial single, and CH’s notoriety came too late after its release to have a chart impact. They did have one Hot 100 entry though: “Alright” apparently made #78 although I don’t remember it well.

    And I don’t remember “Deeper Underground” much either. I was aware of its status as a UK #1, but despite Godzilla being a big presence in US theaters, DU was not a presence on US radio. Instead Puffy’s “Come With Me” and the Wallflowers’ version of “Heroes” got the exposure here. While I don’t like DU quite as much as VI or even CH, it’s good enough that I’ll agree with the 7/10.

  7. 7
    Tom on 29 May 2014 #

    Pure lack of fact checking on my part Mapman – I imagined they’d turned VI’s MTV success into something more tangible. I will amend!

  8. 8
    mapman132 on 29 May 2014 #

    #7 I think the biggest reason that Jamiroquai never really became mainstream in America was that they couldn’t easily be pigeon-holed into one of the standard US radio genres at the time. And without radio airplay, you probably weren’t going to have much sales success either in the pre-Youtube/iTunes days. Jamiroquai overcame this briefly with their snazzy video that caught the eye of MTV. But then after “Alright”, that was pretty much it (not counting “Canned Heat”). Interestingly, I remember an MTV show about one-hit wonders a few years later attributing Jamiroquai’s fizzling out to “Alright” being a “disco” song. As discussed before, being “disco” was pretty much the kiss of death in 90′s America.

  9. 9
    chelovek na lune on 30 May 2014 #

    Fabulous driving and chugging baseline notwithstanding, this isn’t a standout J track for me either – although actually perhaps it’s just that is not one of their more obvious, poppy, less challenging and more enduringly memorable numbers that had been a mostly welcome presence on the airwaves in the years running up to this (Cosmic Girl, Virtual Insanity). Deeper Underground is – well, both deeper, and more underground, than those, and even more at home in 70s NYC (also, the video – in Grays Thurrock, really??? Kind of a Ballardian dystopian place by the late 90s already, once you get outside the old theatre…not necessarily relevant to the song though). But, yes, there’s proficiency and both musical and vocal talent here in abundance, although I think of this as being one of those ‘service award’ number ones, recognising recent past excellence by the artist, rather than one that had set the world on fire in its own right. But, still, a welcome inclusion on this list.

  10. 10
    Ed on 30 May 2014 #

    And now, after a decent interval, Godzilla is back destroying cities again. Although it’s not New York any more: he’s on the Pacific Rim, in every sense.

    It’s a deeply odd film, really, in many ways. Including the soundtrack, which exchanges the modern-day equivalents of Jamiroquai and Puff Daddy (Aloe Blacc and Kanye?) for a srs bsns original score.

  11. 11
    daveworkman on 30 May 2014 #

    I’ve always assumed Jamiroquai were a bit of a guilty pleasure (an ELO for the 90s?), so nice to see them avoid too much flak here.
    I always thought that despite their obvious influences, they were a fairly unique prospect in the charts of the mid-90s, a nice counterpoint to Britpop (wonder why they were never included in that pantheon, although I suppose its fairly obvious, their obvious American influences…)

  12. 12
    Izzy on 30 May 2014 #

    Jamiroquai were so great; the absence of critical acclaim has forever puzzled me, particularly as I’ve always felt that everyone enjoyed the actual records. Which were and remain terrific – their run of twenty-odd singles is as good as anyone’s.

    And yet I’m another who is underwhelmed by this being the one which scaled the summit. I can see that it’s catchy and tight and boasts that fierce distorted hook – but it lacks the cheek and great, fluid playing of their best material. On that basis a (6)

    6: Alright has never been my favourite either, but when I’m running through the singles it’s often the one that makes me stop and think: yeah, they’ve got everything hooked up perfectly here.

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 30 May 2014 #

    #11 One possible contributing factor (to both of the points that you make): I think this was more or less the nearest we got to an Acid Jazz number 1. Belatedly, and untypically, perhaps.

  14. 14
    anto on 30 May 2014 #

    Jay Kay’s voice never seemed to change much from one song to the next so it’s probably just as well he sang about non-specific states of consciousness (or something like that, I wonder if he ever got into discussion with Tony Mortimer). Basically he had a similar tone to Stevie Wonder but nothing like his flexibility as a singer.
    There is no real reason to despise ‘Deeper Underground’ but it’s nothing to write home about either. I just think of Jamiroquai as a footnote.

  15. 15
    thefatgit on 30 May 2014 #

    Pete Paphides on Twitter posted #theleastinfluentialmillionsellingbandofalltime yesterday, and Jamiroquai cropped up. His original question was “has there been a less influential million-selling band than The Police?”.

    The helpfulness of the above question is open to discussion, as I think the issue of “influence” is a trigger word for some who post here. Influence = legacy, as far as the Twitter question is concerned, and the number of subsequent bands and artists that cite The Police/Showaddywaddy/Jamiroquai (not that many, I suspect) as the reason they wanted to form a band or pick up an instrument in the first place. But then Jay Kay & pals had a whole load of artists who shaped Jamiroquai’s sound, some that Tom touched on above, and the ultra-hip Rare Groove/Acid Jazz scene of the late ’80s they emerged from. However, if I was to pinpoint a band outside the Britpop bubble that defined the ’90s, Jamiroquai would be a great example, but they seemed to exist in a bubble of their own.

    The tracks mentioned in the comments above are great, especially “Emergency On Planet Earth” and “Virtual Insanity” but I couldn’t really call myself a fan. “Deeper Underground” is just ok to these ears. I like the chord progressions in the intro, but then it advances into the standard Jamirofunk, we’ve come to know and love. And Godzilla was fun. I’d like to see the new Godzilla and do a compare & contrast, and pull in your Cloverfields and Pacific Rims to the discussion, but that’s for another time and another place. (6)

  16. 16
    Tom on 30 May 2014 #

    Yeah, the question is a bit unfair, in that you can become a million seller by being the peak of something – as here – as well as the start of something. And these things wax and wane – in 1991 a nailed-on answer to that question would have been “ABBA”.

  17. 17
    James BC on 30 May 2014 #

    It is weird how the public had a voracious, insatiable appetite for jazz-funk as performed by Jamiroquai, and no interest whatever in jazz-funk performed by anyone else.

    Any modern-day examples of that? Jools Holland and boogie-woogie music, perhaps. The Arctic Monkeys and heavy rock?

  18. 18
    Rory on 30 May 2014 #

    I can’t get over lartsaegis’s link @2 about Jay Kay spurning the advances of Winona Ryder. 1992-Me would have been agog and/or -ghast.

    My brother was keen on Jamiroquai, and would send me stuff to listen to. Pleasant enough, but I could never get terribly excited about them. 5.

  19. 19
    PurpleKylie on 30 May 2014 #

    #16: I dunno if you could say that ABBA weren’t influential pre-1992, but I doubt that Swedish pop would’ve made any impact on the international music scene in the last 40 years without them.

  20. 20
    Tommy Mack on 30 May 2014 #

    They seemed to be a band people either loved or hated. Perhaps because of the record-collector snobbery around jazz and soul: afficianados unlikely to (admit to) enjoy(ing) a populist act. Also, I’m guessing, they suffered a Scissor Sisters-like effect where a hipster fave cross over to the mainstream and are never forgiven for their betrayal. Plus Jay Kay turned into a coked up bellend as fame took hold.

    My brother was a big Jamiroquai fan during the 90s so I heard their stuff a lot. Like Tom, I found Emergency on Planet Earth a bit too hazy and light sounding for my tastes but I liked the poppier stuff on Travelling Without Moving. I liked this too: I thought the fuzzy hook was a clever way of darkening the Jamiroquai sound for the Godzilla s/t (never saw the film which was terrible by all accounts).

    I remember this as the last properly catchy thing that Jamiroquai released before they drifted into wispy mood music but then I was never a massive fan so I might have missed something: feel free to put me right!

  21. 21
    Andrew Farrell on 30 May 2014 #

    #12: That’s interesting to me, as this is basically the first time I’ve ever come into contact with Jamiroquai fans. I know were some out there (though the only #1 coming from a blockbuster suggested not exactly an army), and I’ve not quizzed everyone I know on it, but they’ve basically been lol 90s whattadick for as long as I can remember. Some of this of course is due to the perceived unlikeability of Jay Kay, and in the context of a Cultural Presence rather than the music.

  22. 22
    Izzy on 30 May 2014 #

    20: well Canned Heat was up next and is catchy as hell and arguably their finest moment – though Supersonic, the one after that, also has a fair claim at that crown. I can see the mood music thing, but it’s by no means a bad development because the subsequent records are still excellent.

    As for truly hooky, they effectively reprised DU seven years later, but better, for Feels Just Like It Should, which is an absolute monster and has the moral claim to their Popular slot imo.

    2: sorry, I meant to add my approval for that link. Magnificent stuff – it’s the sort of problem you’d think you could manfully struggle on with, but perhaps life looks different at such altitudes.

    Otherwise, it’s just come to me that they did start off with decent critical acclaim – the ‘new Stevie Wonder’ label got people quite excited before they launched, and I recall Melody Maker making When You Gonna Learn? and Too Young To Die single of the week – in the same week, somehow! But perhaps the mammoth record deal made that wither quite quickly; it’s the sort of story that makes for big publicity, but can maybe put connoisseurs off quickly.

  23. 23
    Izzy on 30 May 2014 #

    Just noticed that Tom already has them as ‘The Face’s anointed’, which I think is about right – they went big on Brand New Heavies as well as I recall, but I wasn’t around before that to trace if there was an Acid Jazz lineage. (Connor Reeves, he was of that ilk as well, no?) If there was ever much crossover momentum to that scene, it was pretty much washed away within a year or two – the result being that Jamiroquai stand monlithically as a real anomaly in 90s UK pop. Simply Red, in their prolonged success, is possibly a pretty accurate comparison.

  24. 24
    Steve Williams on 30 May 2014 #

    Quite a lot of good stuff came out of the Godzilla film in the end, I think, because I quite like this track, and also I reckon Come With Me is really great as well. In addition, it also inspired BBC2′s Monster Night which featured the highly amusing Lee and Herring’s Reasonably Scary Monsters. So if you didn’t watch the actual film, Godzilla was a triumph.

  25. 25
    Tom on 30 May 2014 #

    The lyrics to Deeper Underground are curious. Jay Kay wants to escape from “humans with guns” implying he isn’t in fact a human. He also gets nervous in the city streets and would prefer to go and get away underground, suggesting a gentle temperament. But when you consider what soundtrack it’s from the pieces fit together: the song is from the perspective of Godzooky.

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