New albums by Jay Kay and Vera Lynn; Decca's 40-album box set

Jamiroquai (left) returns to the music scene after a seven-year hiatus, whereas with her new album, Dame Vera Lynn (right) has become the oldest living person to release a top 20 British album.
Jamiroquai (left) returns to the music scene after a seven-year hiatus, whereas with her new album, Dame Vera Lynn (right) has become the oldest living person to release a top 20 British album. PHOTOS: AFP

The original space cowboy, Jamiroquai frontman Jay Kay, returns to the music stratosphere after a seven- year hiatus. But each new album he puts out seems to confirm that he left his best work back in the 1990s.

Back then, the London acid jazz/ funk band were pioneers in the future funk scene, but they return in an era where the likes of dance/electro bands such as Daft Punk are ubiquitous in making dance music and disco funk cool again.

Jay Kay still sounds fantastic, the bass lines are still sexy (the best are on Nights Out In The Jungle), but, perhaps, they took too long to make a comeback - the genre has progressed far ahead without them.

Jay Kay told British music magazine that the album is a recognition of the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), technology and the desire to reconnect human to human. These ideas are manifested via euphoric disco chords and robotic vocal overlays on the eponymous single Automaton and Superfresh.

  • FUNK/DISCO

  • AUTOMATON

    Jamiroquai

    Virgin EMI

    3.5/5 stars

But his ambivalence towards AI does not come through as strong as his favourite go-to subject matter of the hottest girl in the room (Hot Property) or fleeting romance (Something About You).

Jamiroquai are far more successful when they tap their trademark, disco-era tracks such as the dreamy Summer Girl, with its sweeping strings and bongos, and the silky single Cloud 9 on which Jay Kay croons "Only a fool could walk away from me this time /I'm walking on air and every cloud is Cloud 9".

Many tracks on Automaton sound like throwbacks, but there is a glimmer of change. The track that signals their growth the most is the speedy, breakbeat-driven Vitamin, a proper modern-day dance song that has instant classic potential.

Though not much of it feels fresh, the Jamiroquai magic is still there.

Anjali Raguraman


With this album, centenarian crooner Dame Vera Lynn has become the oldest living person to release a top 20 British album.

  • JAZZ

  • VERA LYNN 100

    Vera Lynn, with orchestra and choir

    Decca

    2.5/5 stars

The album debuted at the No. 3 spot when it was released on March 17, bested only by Ed Sheeran and Drake.

Kudos to Dame Vera, but this album does not really do justice to the Forces' Sweetheart whose career bloomed during World War II, thanks to her sweet balladry.

Lynn's soprano voice has a clarion purity and her easy, no-frills delivery rescued the borderline soppy lyrics of her biggest hits, The White Cliffs Of Dover and We'll Meet Again, with girl-next-door sincerity.

This album retrieves her vocals and proceeds to bury most of them under tons of sentimental strings and clammy choral accompaniment.

The Brighton Festival Chorus, although competent, is particularly egregious, smothering the songs in layers of funereal staidness.

Guest vocalists Alfie Boe, Alexander Armstrong, Aled Jones and Cynthia Erivo attempt digital dueting to varying effect. Boe channels Rudy Vallee to charming period effect on We'll Meet Again and Armstrong goes overboard with the vibrato on As Time Goes By.

Ironically, Lynn's clean timbre still shines bright amid all the fussy frills.

If you are a fan, I would advise simply returning to her original recordings rather than shelling out more cash for this.

Unless, of course, you are a completist who is dying to hear Lynn's previously unreleased take on Rod Stewart's 1975 hit Sailing, a rather decent cover ruined by clunky choral overlays.

Ong Sor Fern


Listeners of a certain vintage will fondly remember Decca Phase 4 long-playing records from the 1960s and early 1970s, which prided themselves on state-of-the- art sound using then new-fangled stereophonic technology.

  • CROSSOVER CLASSICS

  • NICE 'N' EASY

    Phase 4 Stereo Spectacular

    Decca 4786769 (40 CDs)

    4.5/5 stars

This 40-album box set relives the free and easy sounds of that swinging era, when classical, jazz, swing, traditional and popular music found a happy confluence without dumbing down.

Nine discs are devoted to Ronnie Aldrich and his Two Pianos. He performs on one piano, but the parts are fed through into two speakers - a clever gimmick.

For sonic spectaculars of that era, listen to Stanley Black (pseudonym of Solomon Schwartz) conducting the London Festival Orchestra in film scores and Jewish music.

For nostalgic value, the singing strings of Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra in the music of The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Jerome Kern and Simon & Garfunkel truly have a special place.

Ted Heath leads in big band arrangements of The Sound Of Music, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey, while Edmundo Ros provides a Latin beat for five records.

Vocal highlights include the booming voice of Ethel Merman and Wright & Forrest's musical Kismet (using melodies by Russian composer Alexander Borodin) accompanied by Mantovani's Orchestra.

Finally, there are two discs of James Bond and spy movie themes from Roland Shaw And His Orchestra, which define the zeitgeist of an unforgettable age.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe