May 14

JAMIROQUAI – “Deeper Underground”

Popular75 comments • 6,440 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.



  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.)


  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.

  26. 26
    wichitalineman on 30 May 2014 #

    I was mulling over the Pretenders’ “I’m only human on the inside” the other day. Was that written from Godzookie’s perspective too?

    There’s an unfinished joke about a costume drama featuring Gadzookie, but I’ll cut my losses.

  27. 27
    Kat but logged out innit on 30 May 2014 #

    #20: Reeling at this information! Unless you have some secret extra brother hiding somewhere?

  28. 28
    Matt DC on 30 May 2014 #

    In a world where virtually every major band has been reclaimed, Jamiroquai are probably the most unfashionable major act I can possibly think of. It didn’t help that Jay Kay was such a preposterous individual.

    I remember this one having a decent guitar riff at the beginning of it but I can remember virtually nothing else about it.

  29. 29
    tm on 30 May 2014 #

    #27: It was a transitional phase on his way to PROPA JASS.

    #28: Preposterous individual describes nearly everyone in pop from Rihanna to Genesis P. Orridge! It’s hard to say what’s so hard to like about Jay Kay. I suppose there’s a certain hypocrisy in being an environmentalist with a fleet of sports cars but he’s hardly the first pop star to tread that sort of line and as I recall, he gave Greenpeace and FoTE a percentage on each album, so was actually putting his money where his mouth was. There is something obnoxious about him though, sort of equal parts Damon Albarn and Sting.

  30. 30
    Tom on 30 May 2014 #

    #28 Yet more grist to the Simply Red comparison mill, surely?

    But popular white funk hybrids have almost NEVER been fashionable – see also the Chili Peppers and, perhaps even more apropos to Jamiroquai, the massive popularity of LEVEL 42 (and associated rockpress pearl-clutching re “fluffy dice” etc)

  31. 31
    iconoclast on 30 May 2014 #

    Worthy but dull; pretty unremarkable really. FIVE.

  32. 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)

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 36
    Jim5et on 30 May 2014 #

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


    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

  37. 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

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.)

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 49
    Mark M on 1 Jun 2014 #

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

  50. 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.

  51. 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

  52. 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.

  53. 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’

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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?

  57. 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.

  58. 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’.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 61
    flahr on 2 Jun 2014 #

    Even rocking from side to side was beyond the miserable hipsters that made up the rest of the Clean Bunny audience at HMV today. You’d think limiting the availability of tickets would mean only diehards showed up, but it actually seems to increase the proportion of dullards who only want to say ‘oh yeah I was somewhere pret-ty underground last night’.

    And the West End and the comedy clubs are dead, dead, dead. This is what austerity does to a nation.

    I don’t know what any of that has to do with Jamiroquai. Guesses on a postcard!

  62. 62
    PurpleKylie on 2 Jun 2014 #

    I have to say that Clean Bunny sounds like a good name for a band. Kinda reminds me of an Estonian indie band called Tenfold Rabbit.

  63. 63
    Chelovek na Lune on 2 Jun 2014 #

    #62, etc. I once saw, at a summer festival in Ljubljana, a Croatian band called the Bambi Molesters (they were less interesting than one might have hoped for). I’d like to think they would deal with anyone here who provokes the bunny.

  64. 64
    Ed on 3 Jun 2014 #

    @43 Talking Heads were critically and (fairly) commercially successful in Britain; first one, then the other. It was a slightly odd form of success, though. ‘Fear of Music’ was the NME’s album of the year in 1979, and then they had their second-biggest UK hit, ‘Once in a Lifetime’, while ‘Remain in Light’ was again loved by the critics. But OIAL, partly because of the video, made them seem like wacky one-hit wonders, of a similar stripe to acts that came later such as the Men Without Hats or Thomas Dolby. That ws certainly my impression, until I picked a cassette of ‘The Name of this Band…’, and I was enraptured. I listened to literally nothing else for the entire summer of 1984 – I was away from home and it was the only tape I had – but I never tired of it.

    Joining the dots to Brit-funk, I remember seeing a pic of Level 42 in which one of them – Mike Lindup? – was wearing a ‘Remain in Light’ T-shirt*, which made me think: “They must be cool; I should check them out.” I was deeply disappointed when I did.

    I would have loved to have liked Level 42: it would have been a great hipster move in my studenty set, where being an Abba fan, for example, was already moving into the mainstream. But I just couldn’t do it. They always seemed be be quite agressively bland.

    * The meaning of the shirt, of course, was “Hey, white funk can be cool, too.” I remember Sting trying a similar tactic, wearing a Beat t-shirt in the video for, IIRC, ‘Don’t Stand Spo Close to Me”.

  65. 65
    Mark G on 3 Jun 2014 #

    I never understood why “Take me to the river” wasn’t a hit: It was catchy as hell, not madly weird, and it had a free 7″ with it with two of their best past tracks. I can only assume that the majority of sales were in ‘alt’ shops

  66. 66
    will on 3 Jun 2014 #

    Re 64: My younger brother is a massive Level 42 fan – to the extent of seeing them over 15 times, buying all their various solo projects, seeing ex-members perform in pubs. He really likes Jamiroquai too. I don’t think he would have regarded either as a ‘hipster’ move. I’m not even sure he knows what the word ‘hipster’ means.

    I’m fairly ambivalent about them. Hot Water was a pretty good single and that’s as far as I’d go really.

  67. 67
    enitharmon on 3 Jun 2014 #

    I can’t remember dancing at a gig, as opposed to an event mainly for dancing with a live band. I went to gigs to see and hear the performer(s), who I expected to actually perform and not jig about while lip-synching. I expect this is a generational thing, or maybe just a reflection of the kind of performers I went to see.

    Of course, there was almost always one lunatic, off his head on something (he was invariably male), who strode to the front and shook violently without any great sense of rhythm…

  68. 68
    Izzy on 3 Jun 2014 #

    66: I always assumed everyone had at least a soft spot for the Level. Their singles are all good and they did lay down some funky cuts on their albums, though that’s as far as I can go right now – I’d like the benefit of the circles your brother moves in.

    Mark and Mike’s handprints are set in the pavement on London’s Denmark St, with a little plaque (south side of the street, three or four doors in from Charing Cross Rd). I always look fondly when passing.

  69. 69
    enitharmon on 3 Jun 2014 #

    I can’t really understand why Talking Heads weren’t huge; they were always the band to look out for in the coming year and never did much outside the band of devoted fans like me, who were already feeling rather out of it. In much the same way Unix was always going to be the next big thing in personal computing but never seemed to catch on outside the world of enthusiasts. Then along came Micro$not, the Simon Cowell of technology!

  70. 70
    Geiger on 3 Jun 2014 #

    I don’t know why I get this feeling, but I really do. And I feel like Jay-Kay is taking a large leaf from Michael Jackson in this album but giving a modern twist to it. It works though for the most part. I enjoy the music even if I do feel like there are to many repeated parts.

  71. 71
    tm on 3 Jun 2014 #

    There was always a touch of Michael Jackson to Jay Kay (mainly the MJ of a mid paced Off The Wall album track) but this brings in a dash of paranoid 90s MJ.

  72. 72
    Garry on 11 Jun 2014 #

    #64 and #69 I can remember Road to Nowhere being big, and it was the song which would get played on commercial radio for years after. But as I moved into the right age bracket I realised Road to Nowhere wasn’t representative and the better years were earlier.

    I later came to Talking Heads after finding out about Eno, which makes One in a Lifetime one of my favourite all-time songs. Strangely The only two albums I’ve heard are Remain In Light and Speaking in Tongues.

  73. 73
    ciaran on 1 Jul 2014 #

    Fascinating comments on this one. Talking Heads to Level 42 to Jamiroquai. What makes popular so brilliant really.

    It’s become de rigeur in recent times to dismiss Jamiroquai, but I always suspected there was a greater fanbase for them than some would think.

    The hats werent part of Jay Kay’s appeal but the fast cars and Adidas Originals certainly were.

    I would liken Jamiroquai’s output to something like Microsoft Operating Systems- Every second one either is a gem or a disappointment.

    I would like Too Young To die as i only knew about from a loan of Now 26 but the Space Cowboy phase passed me by. Virtual Insanity is the one I would love to be discussing here as it my favourite of theirs ( A 9 to go along with Setting sun,Firestarter, Wannabe etc) and along with Cosmic Girl he probably was the one of the most exciting Pop stars amongst people in my school, marking I suppose what was his imperial phase.

    DU was to use the microsoft analogy more Windows 8 than Windows 7.A baffling record and tied to an over hyped film of which there were plenty of in 1998. A most atypical record which you would applaud the idea of but not the execution. One of the lesser of the hits for sure. A 3 or a 4.

    Jay Kay was back in top form with Canned Heat but Little L from 2001 was highly irritating and the Jamiriquai sound had fallen out of favour a bit by then.

    Can remember the 2006 Greatest Hits being heavily promoted and Runaway didnt lack for Airplay but just seemed like a Little L rehash.

    Comments above have prompted me to Seven Days in June which I had a vague memory of. The best of the later years without doubt.

  74. 74
    benson_79 on 20 Feb 2021 #

    Jamiroquai are one of my musical bete noirs! Every song I’ve heard of theirs irritates me, although the front man’s general bellendery no doubt colours their music to some degree.

    I do remember a passionate defence of them in Q by Stuart Maconie (iirc), on the basis that every man and his dog can rhapsodize about “soul” and a great many musical atrocities have been committed in its name, but very few claim to have The Funk, which sets Jay Kay apart. Naturally your mileage may vary on the accuracy of said claim…

  75. 75
    Gareth Parker on 20 May 2021 #

    I would bracket this with Kravitz’s ‘Fly Away’. Decent riff, but a forgettable song from an unremarkable band, in my view. 5/10.

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