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May 14

JAMIROQUAI – “Deeper Underground”

Popular73 comments • 4,511 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. 31
    iconoclast on 30 May 2014 #

    Worthy but dull; pretty unremarkable really. FIVE.

  2. 32

    Where oh where is former poster andypandy (if only bcz he is the one i can bond with in my Level 42 adoration) :(

    if i wanted to wrap a theory up in a stereotype, i’d suggest that would-be critical english-speaking ears from this side of the atlantic have somewhat always been dullards when it came to any music where rhythm is its spine rather than merely a flavour: as far back as the 30s and 40s the most popular dancebands were latin-inflected — edmundo ros! — but you never really see this discussed or celebrated

    even the rise of dance-music as a massive discussed thing tended not to explore the fact that the rhythmic dimension of a lot of the more discussed stuff was (to be nice about it) a simplification and a domestication

    ^^^this is over-simplified but there’s definitely been a tendency for james brown, say, being said to be “redeemed” by some element pasted over the top by whoever

    (musicians a lot less guilty here than the critics excited by them)

  3. 33
    Kat but logged out innit on 30 May 2014 #

    #29: I am now picturing him scowling in an oversized fluffy hat.

    I saw Godzilla (1998) in the cinema. It was the first time I’d seen Matthew Broderick in anything except much-loved-by-me Ferris Bueller and well, the (radioactive lizard) scales fell from my eyes. Poor Matthew Broderick.

  4. 34
    lartsaegis on 30 May 2014 #

    Re: Jay Kay not having mucch lyrical range — I’ve gotta say he really expanded here and there in later albums starting with this one. There are always 1 or 2 songs where it feels like he’s stepping out (World That He Wants) and on Rock Dust Light Star he’s fleshed out his abilities as a storyteller in songs like Smoke and Mirrors as well as Goodbye To My Dancer.

    That said — I wouldn’t turn down Ryder at any age. But clearly Jay Kay is a different man. That said — I have to look up more about what’s made him so preposterous.

  5. 35
    lartsaegis on 30 May 2014 #

    Reading the comments here I’ve got a good gist of his reputation. Also, for a long time I didn’t even know he was a brit. If I had a dollar for every UK singer I’ve heard that goes out of their way to hide their accent, I can buy something nice.

  6. 36
    Jim5et on 30 May 2014 #

    I think the biggest factor in everybody coming to ridicule jay kay was this;

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ezbJkZouXX4

    It’s perfect and merciless and I could never listen to them properly after that. I think for a lot of people he represented a particularly awful 90’s type in Brighton and London, too; public school, acid jazz, homegrown, backpacking graduates (who a year or two later would be drifting to the edges of dot com; there’s a short distance between his persona and that of Nathan Barley).

    Snobbery of small difference aside, his records were always fine, but never more than that, and this is one of the less memorable ones…4

  7. 37
    lonepilgrim on 30 May 2014 #

    a friend of mine met a woman who’d been dragged along to a Level 42 concert by her boyfriend and was adamant afterwards that she’d seen a singer called Neville Fortescue
    I saw them early on in their career, around the time of The Chinese Way, and enjoyed them

  8. 38
    Chelovek na lune on 30 May 2014 #

    I think a reassessment of Jamiroquai is clearly in order. Inspired by this thread, have been flicking through their catalogue – and a lot of it stands up really, really, well (yes, he is evidently a bit of a tosser, but hardly of Bobby Gillespie proportions: and this is about music not personality: while the general contempt in which he is held makes me think a bit of another underrated act in this broad genre: Shakatak). And recalling indeed just how very unfashionable Abba were in 1991 – perhaps a tribute band called JayKay Again is all that is required to provoke this well-deserved reassessment and reappreciation ;) or failing that an EP of cover versions of some of Jamiroquai’s singles by a chart-topping act of today: “Calvin Harris – Jamiroquaiesque EP” perhaps….

    Complete gem (new to me now): “Seven Days In Sunny June”. Tune, seriously.

  9. 39
    lartsaegis on 31 May 2014 #

    @36 — thanks for that, never seen it before! The song they performed at the end about the chocolate and ferrari was a great pisstake. Coming off of work, and just reading his Wiki and checking out the linked interviews, I can see where some of the distaste comes from — he seems a bit cartoony, a complete character at times, trading best times in a car show with Simon Cowell, his speeding, his owning a bunch of expensive cars while driving a Honda Accord in his “daily life” (You can’t eat Caviar everyday, sometimes you want chips”.), the aforementioned turndown of Ryder, and his verbal trashing of Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole is just completely unneccesary and over the line rude (quoted in The Sun of all places).

    Seven Days in Sunny June was a very solid later song. A remix I really like that’s in a same vein is the Mondo Grosso remix of Love Foolosophy, it’s just perfectly stripped, vocal and a really well recorded acoustic guitar performance, very summer, very light windy.

  10. 40
    Garry on 31 May 2014 #

    For me Jamiroquai isn’t so much an ultimate singles at the time so much as an ultimate song artist. Maybe it was because I was in radio and we were playing his stuff. So was Australia’s youth station Triple J. So was the ABC’s weekend video show Rage. None of us though of him in terms of buying the singles – we had a radio station full of them – so we didn’t think of him in terms of singles or albums. He was feelgood and could appear at any given moment.

    Then year later in the Noughties I finally heard an album. I took it off after three songs. Later I played it through but found it hard to concentrate. I realised Jamiroquai was a great artist in terms of songs heard in isolation amongst other feelgood (and not so feelgood) songs, but a cluster of them quickly became flat and a slog to listen to.

    He’s still on my randomised mp3 driving list where he should be, an unexpected piece of groove between Wire and Lucas with the Lid Off or Kraftwerk and Ed Kuepper.

  11. 41
    enitharmon on 31 May 2014 #

    And here, after all this time in the wilderness, is a track I not only know pretty well but is actually here in my collection. Not only that, there’s a few more of those in the offing. I suspect that’s because it marks the awakening of pop awareness in the young friend the contents of whose iPod I decanted into my computer a few years ago.

    Where’s the list of all the no 1s gone, by the way?

    I like this song, and Jamiroquai in general, perhaps because of the general Stevie Wonder-ness. Jay Kay isn’t Stevie of course, but there’s no harm in trying. A Jamiroquai track is unmistakeable and there’s nowt wrong with that. 7 feels about right; it makes me smile when it comes up but I won’t be clutching it on my desert island.

  12. 42
    Mark M on 1 Jun 2014 #

    Hold on, all this talk about Jamiroquai’s precedents, and – forgive me if I’m wrong – nobody has mentioned this funk-inclined British band with a much-mocked, gangly, loose-limbed be-hatted frontman?

    Meanwhile, you could argue that Level 42’s music got a poor rep for some of the same reasons that Jamiroquai’s did, but on a non-musical level, the objection was almost the opposite – Jay Kay looked like he was enjoying pop stardom too much, while Mark King gave off the impression he was actually working at an accountancy firm in Hemel Hempstead despite his band’s frequent appearances on Top Of The Pops.

  13. 43
    swanstep on 1 Jun 2014 #

    I’ve never paid that much attention to Jam. before this week, perhaps because I just find Jay-Kay’s voice unexpressive – he always sounds in-tune to me *and nothing more*. I mean seriously, Jay-Kay almost always *sounds* like he’s on the same note to me, even though I know intellectually he’s hitting intervals (Adam Levine of Maroon 5’s voice hits me in the same unfortunate way). Put slightly differently, I’m not aware of any Jam. song that wouldn’t be greatly improved by having Pharrell or D’Angelo or…sing it. Beyond that the jazzy chords Jam. uses often seem to weigh heavily on the music. It’s like the changes themselves haven’t been figured out properly (the way they tend to have been when Chic or Steely Dan or Quincy Jones or, yes, Stevie Wonder use those same chords).

    Anyhow, I concur with the consensus here that DU isn’t one of Jam’s finest moments, but, like a lot of Jam.’s stuff, it’s not a million miles removed from stuff I love: Mezzanine and Maxinquaye in particular. It’s good to see what I regard as pre-Millennial tension music make some contact with Popular! Also I have a particular weakness for tracks with fat, fizzing bass lines that also double as synth or guitar leads: come on down Da Funk and (Les Rhythm Digitales’s) Soft Machine and (Ladytron’s) International Dateline. For these reasons I give DU a 5 notwithstanding its slightly random changes and Jay-Kay’s draggy vocal.

    Godzilla (1998). Didn’t see it. Does DU feature prominently in any given scene or is this one of those soundtrack hits that crops up only over credits or deeply in the background or not at all?

    @Tom, 30, ‘popular white funk hybrids have almost NEVER been fashionable’. I guess Talking Heads are one of the exceptions; both popular and critically acclaimed. (I was slightly shocked to discover that David Byrne and Talking Heads only got half a sentence in Yeah Yeah Yeah, so maybe they weren’t as big a deal in the UK popularly or critically as they were elsewhere.)

  14. 44
    Izzy on 1 Jun 2014 #

    42: amazing that I’ve never connected Jamiroquai with the sophistipop lineage until now! I still tend to the view that the two are quite distinct – though how much is due to the severe discrepancy in image, or to the 80s flourishes adorning Curiosity, Hue & Cry or Living in a Box; I don’t know. Evidently there are common roots somewhere in London clubland.

    I think I posited on the Fairground thread that Simply Red’s tune may be the closest we have to a sophistipop no.1 (give or take a Eurythmics). It’s still not terribly close, but Deeper Underground is certainly no closer. In fact not much of Jamiroquai’s output would really push it close. Maybe if Too Young To Die had got there. I feel they’re just a little too loose and funky to truly qualify for sophistiheritage.

  15. 45
    Steve Mannion on 1 Jun 2014 #

    I’m another who enjoyed the first album (on of my last cassette purchases) but lost enthusiasm with each subsequent one (although I do like the Basement Jaxx-y ‘Supersonic’) to the extent of not liking ‘Virtual Insanity’ much at first either. So DU left me cold like big lizard blood. Disappointed to see there is no ‘Jamzilla mix’ – too obvious? Or patented by Bootsy maybe.

    The band’s biggest virtue (I’ve always been ambivalent about J’s voice) was that they actually tended to be both tighter and funkier than any of their peers – certainly the vast majority of the British Acid Jazz anthill mob. I probably would’ve liked them to merge that with trip hop but I doubt that would’ve benefited them commercially. House remixes of the band’s hits were often huge too – particularly the Dave Morales mix of ‘Space Cowboy’.

    A friend raised this in the pub last night but what indeed happened to big blockbuster tie-in songs? Nowadays if the film’s a musical many of its songs might penetrate the charts (e.g. Frozen most recently) but the former model really fell out of fashion in the 00s (although one example is U2’s ‘Elevation’ where the video features The Edge ‘inter-acting’ badly with Angelina Jolie in scenes based on the Tomb Raider film it promoted). Pop stars blurring the lines between their songs/videos and the movie has had a history of (sort of endearing NOW maybe) naffness (hi there Simon Le Bon in ‘A View To A Kill’) that I suspect most people now are too cool/uncool/afraid to want to tangle with.

  16. 46
    swanstep on 1 Jun 2014 #

    @45. The Twilight (e.g. Paramore) and Hunger Games (e.g., Taylor Swift) franchises have pushed rockish soundtracks pretty hard and with considerable success, so the model isn’t dead. Consider too that Tarantino continues to make movies with jukebox soundtracks, and his recent films are bigger, broader hits than his ’90s films were. And Drive should have been a big hit and had a cool jukebox soundtrack.

  17. 47
    Andrew Farrell on 1 Jun 2014 #

    #45 – fortunately Pitbull isn’t bound by any of those concerns. I keep thinking these are generally a thing, but the first one that comes to mind is Chad Kroeger’s Hero from 2002’s Spiderman, so maybe not.

  18. 48
    Mark M on 1 Jun 2014 #

    Re44: I meant Curiosity very specifically, really. Curiosity had stuff in common with some of the other acts you might label ‘sophistipop’, but differences too – they were younger than some (not all), they didn’t have have a punk/post-punk background (Scritti, Style Council, Simply Red, Swing Out Sister, Everything But The Girl) or (as far as I know) an interest in various shades of left-wing politics (Scritti, Style Council, Simply Red, the Kane Gang, EBTG) or post-structuralism (Scritti, Hue & Cry). And crucially, you couldn’t do loose, long-limbed dancing to Hue & Cry or Everything But The Girl, but you can to both Curiosity and Jamiroquai.

  19. 49
    Mark M on 1 Jun 2014 #

    Re44, 48: Or, in summary, rubber-band-bass music for spoilt kids.

  20. 50
    weej on 1 Jun 2014 #

    The trouble with Jamiroquai wasn’t so much that funk music wasn’t understood by the British public (though that may well be true) – it was (a) a lack of a real standout hit – Deeper Underground follows a procession of Jamiroquai singles in being not bad, but nothing special either – I think I’d rate every one of their singles between 5 and 6 and (b) Jay Kay just came across as a bit of a dick, and it was hard to connect with him on a personal level. I can enjoy a Jamiroquai song when it comes on the radio, but I’d never consider listening to a whole album – and I think I’m probably not alone in that.

  21. 51
    flahr on 1 Jun 2014 #

    I can EXCLUSIVELY REPORT that a my Dad once sat next to Jay Kay in a pub. He was wearing a hat and absolutely plastered, and the woman he was with* nicked his wallet and ran off while he was in the loo. Jay Kay, that is, not my dad.

    *not Winona Ryder

  22. 52
    Duffer on 1 Jun 2014 #

    It’s a possibility, perhaps, that straight male indie kids (or straight males in general) didn’t like Jamiroquai because, in the 90s at least, the idea of a pop band with a purely hedonistic agenda, fronted by a moderately macho, hot guy who dated (and dumped!) Winona Ryder probably – well, it probably rankled a bit. And it didn’t help that JK was a bit of a twat who used to write songs about dolphins and the ecology but now seemed more interested in fast cars and supermodels. On top of which Jamiroquai songs lack the camp aesthetic that used to be so important in “allowing” the indie kids to like a pop song. Basically I’m saying boys probably had a more of a problem with the image than the songs – because the songs are pretty good! Maybe.

  23. 53
    Andrew Farrell on 2 Jun 2014 #

    I have no idea how to consider Jay Kay ‘moderately macho’!

    It’s possible that some of the key is in the dancing – difficult, intricate, flawlessly executed, and extremely annoying.

    I might also tie p^nk D’s theory above with Alex Macpherson’s view of the UK’s war on excellence – if technically demanding funk jazz is disliked, very good* technically demanding funk jazz is really disliked.

    *cheating here to have ‘good’ mean just ‘good at the technicals’

  24. 54
    wichitalineman on 2 Jun 2014 #

    The origins of the band’s name explain the Jamiroquai problem, I think: Jam (music) and Iroquai (Indian). Jay Kay will think of these as signposts to a) jazz looseness and b) important world issues, but it makes me think of retirees Vera and Norman who called their bungalow Veno.

    “Jay Kay looked like he was enjoying pop stardom too much, while “Mark King gave off the impression he was actually working at an accountancy firm in Hemel Hempstead despite his band’s frequent appearances on Top Of The Pops.” True, but the lack of Jazz Club signposts is something I find endearing about Level 42 (Sukrat… you are not alone).

    It comes as no surprise to hear that Mark King is one of the nicest men in pop. Of course, niceness in pop isn’t necessarily a good thing, but I’d have been hugely disappointed if he’d come up with that caviar and chips line about his bloody car.

  25. 55
    Steve Mannion on 2 Jun 2014 #

    Level 42 actually appeared on The Fast Show as themselves (performing ‘Forever Now’ only to be interrupted by Paul Whitehouse’s “Fancy a pint?”).

    ‘Technical excellence’ doesn’t strike me as a barrier to a wider audience in the UK but perhaps it does depend on the genre.

  26. 56
    tm on 2 Jun 2014 #

    There’s something a bit half-arsed about Jay Kay too: native American headdress and, er, tracky top and jeans, that do?

  27. 57
    weej on 2 Jun 2014 #

    While it doesn’t feel fair to pile on the Jay kay hate any further, we have to mention his professed environmentalism, which at best seemed wooly and rooted in a conservative distrust of science and technology (Virtual Insanity is the worst example of this, it’s basically just Insania with an (admittedly pretty good) funk backing track) and at worst, well, the sheer hypocrisy of being lectured about environmental catastrophe by a man who is the next moment flaunting his collection of sports cars is pretty astonishing in its chutzpah.

  28. 58
    tm on 2 Jun 2014 #

    #55: I think what people dislike is showy technical excellence covering a paucity of ideas or worse destroying enjoyable melodies and rhythms (this is why, I think, a lot people distrust Jazz). A lot of great musicians’ most technical moments are deceptively effortless sounding: if it sounds ‘over technical’, then surely in a sense it’s lacking technique because you can see the strings, see the effort going on: like the difference between a great acting performance that makes you believe in the character and draws you into the moment and a hammy one that makes you think ‘Oscar clip’.

  29. 59
    iconoclast on 2 Jun 2014 #

    #58: to recycle anecdotes from my younger days, a bit like presented with music you’re supposed to admire because the guitarists can play 100 notes per second, but otherwise with no other obvious appeal.

  30. 60
    lonepilgrim on 2 Jun 2014 #

    British audiences are used to rocking from side to side while facing in the same direction watching a band on a stage – we’re not comfortable with music that encourages dancing.

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