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Automaton (EMI)


Damage And Joy (ADA/Warner)

They’re back! Did you miss them? Go on, admit it, you did.

Despite truisms to the contrary, extended absences can wither contempt and boost affection. English musician Robyn Hitchcock, who has been making music since the 1970s, tweeted this week some advice for “vocational songwriters” along those lines.

“Go into suspended animation at 40 and get thawed out again at 60,” Hitchcock said. “Fast track you to heritage.”

A generation younger than Hitchcock, the Reid brothers of The Jesus And Mary Chain (Jim and William) and Jay Kay of Jamiroquai have had extended breaks from the business of being feuding brothers making music that can sound like an internal feud, and being the prat in the hat with the fast cars who makes music to play in fast cars while being a prat.

Their return to releasing albums has had the commensurate welcome afforded the returning hero, with words along the lines of “it’s as if they never went away”, or “just how we remembered them”. Which is in many ways true of both these albums.

There is a key question rising from this though: is that a good thing? Yes, and no.

Jamiroquai’s Automaton, the first album since 2010 is a reminder for those who jumped ship from the Jay Kay cruise around The Return Of The Space Cowboy in 1994, that you can ingest all the Stevie Wonder albums you like and regurgitate them faithfully, but your Spandau Ballet tastes are, like diced carrots, always going to show up in the result.

Do not believe reviewers who tell you Automaton is fresh, energized, funky or anything resembling renewal of the faith. It ain’t. It is professional class funk.

That is, if by professional class you mean the training school for cruise ship bands and holiday resort ensembles. Or the kind of Friday night tribute shows a few too many venues around town still believe will attract cashed up people who know what they like and they would like it reproduced note for note while they slurp a fruity cocktail, thank you very much.

You would not necessarily turn any of these songs off if they came by you on the radio, you would not throw this CD out the window in frustration yelling “give us a solid gold tune Jay”.

But in part that would be because you would have lost focus on it quickly and returned to your gardening, mulling up, texting or writing that letter to the editor asking for better behaved politicians. Before looking up half an hour or so later and realising that background sound had finished. “Put another one of those on would you love? Ta.”

The return is better from the JAMC, a band with limitations but one which has always happily operated within those.

Damage And Joy is not just the story of the Reid’s relationships – they did Gallagher battles before Noel and Liam got out of short pants – but an album of clean, sometimes even pretty vocals over muted fuzz and (mostly) dark imagery about life.

The feel of a druggy party, midweek somewhere in the lower east side sometime in 1967, is familiar territory for JAMC. As is the thought that maybe if a Motown girl group stumbled into said party and decided that hanging out with Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed was just a peachy keen idea, this is what it would sound like.

In other words, while less noisy than some of their earlier ventures down this rock hallway, Damage And Joy is going to feel exactly as you’d expect, or want, as a JAMC fan. Except it’s not. Well not exactly.

With vocals from actual – rather than imagined/maligned/distant - women Always Sad (with Bernadette Denning) is surprisingly anything but sad and The Two Of Us (with Isobel Campbell) is positively joyful and more like Teenage Fanclub with every spin.

The problem is, as it often has been, that while the band can make a dolorous melody work well over chugging guitars/basic drums like few others, that melody is pretty much the same one pretty much all the time.

Pull out songs individually and you will find your head nodding, your black leather jacket loosening with release – and play The Two Of Us and Always Sad and that jacket will come off because you’re dancing. Happily.

Play the 14 tracks all the way through and it does start to blur and feel like an overlong record, one that has stretched its form one notch too far.

It may be this is an album to enjoy in bursts. Which is not the worst thing to say about a record.

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