Technically, real Jamiroquai fans aren’t supposed to like any of the group’s albums that don’t feature Stuart Zender as bassist. It’s not just that Zender was/is ridiculously talented. The Zender Era represents a time when Jamiroquai were explicitly about something, whether that was creating propulsive collections of looooong tunes, speaking out against injustice, or talking up the benefits of tokin’. For these fans, all the good music and good times stopped when Zender left the band — or was fired, depending on who you talk to. Knowing all this, I still pick A Funk Odyssey as my favorite Jamiroquai album. Yes, it’s an unabashed party album, with no aim of informing, let alone empowering the listener; yes, it’s a far, far cry from the days when they railed against the world’s injustices. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t, you know, good.
In album opener “Feels So Good”, sleek synthesizers and other sonic effects evoke the sound of a spaceship readying for take off, before turning into a booty-shakin’ romp. The sleazy groove of “Little L” is propelled by a simple, yet killer, bass line – courtesy of then-bassist, Nick Fyffe. Sample lyric: “Why does it have to be like this/I can never tell/You make me love you love you baby/with a little L”. Not Shakespeare by any stretch, but this doesn’t much matter when you’re jamming to it on the dance floor.
Three and a half-minute trifle “You Give Me Something” provides a bed of synthesized, layered vocals for such profound ruminations as, “You give me somethin’/somethin’ that nobody else has got.”
“Corner of the Earth” is the showstopper: a meditative bossanova-tinged ballad featuring soaring trumpets and swirling strings. Jay Kay croons, “Nature’s got me high/And it’s so beautiful,” as the song careens toward its climax on a squall of larger-than-life sound. Track five, “Love Foolosophy”, is that rare pop song that packs an actual emotional punch while throwing an irresistible groove your way. “Stop, Don’t Panic” is guitar-driven and danceable. “Main Vein” sounds like Donna Summer crossed with a blaxploitation soundtrack, complete with soulful female backing vocals and wah-wah guitars.
Jay & Co. even return to their social commentary roots on the acoustic “Black Crow”. Strings and soaring harmonies swirl as he laments the absence of spirituality in modern culture. The Rock guitars and computerized vocals on “Twenty Zero One” befit a song about the dehumanizing effects of technology. The poignant, Latin-flavored ballad “Picture of My Life” follows (if I’m in the right mood, this song can actually make me cry), before the bouncy bonus track “Feels Good To Be Real” closes out the album.
Truthfully, I don’t feel all that guilty about loving this album. I still remember rockin’ to these tunes for most of 2002; and even listening to it today, I find the album ages well. Return of the Space Cowboy may be their best album; Traveling Without Moving was more successful; but with its invigorating, dancefloor-ready tunes, A Funk Odyssey remains my favorite. I should be ashamed to listen to such eager-to-please music, but, honestly, what is wrong with being eager to be pleased?