Album Revisit: Travelling Without Moving

Before moving on to the obscure gems, we should mark off a definitive classic. Travelling Without Moving by Jamiroquai is simply one of those fundamental and essential albums that belongs in every music lover’s collection. Jamiroquai is the type of band that has more or less become either a dying breed or practically extinct… the last of its kind. A band that is actually better live than in the studio. A group of musicians that understand each other and are musically, mentally, and emotionally on the same page. In the year of 2011, where most music is dominated by the usage and power of computers, it is a rarity to find a group of musicians that deliver a specific sound which no other band possesses.

Bands still exist, of course, and there are in fact, very large, niche groups of people, cult followings, and/or loyal fans that keep this type of music and culture alive. However, for every new “sound” that comes out, there are always at least a few other bands that also practically have or mildly share the same sound/style (i.e. Radiohead and Muse [although that’s debatable], Coldplay and heaps of bands that tried to sound like Coldplay, and the rest of the indie or nu rock sounds of The Killers, The White Stripes, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Black Keys… the electronica scene, the urban pop top 40s scene, etc). This is a very subjective and general statement, but with many genres, there usually seems to be other bands that have that similar sound… these sorts of bands are usually considered associated acts.

Now reverting back to Jamiroquai, ultimately there really is no other group that sounds quite like them. And even though Jamiroquai is at its core, a retro band, they don’t exactly sound like the actual 70s music they seem to replicate either, as they do it with a modern or unique edge/style. Originally they were part of and the leading/trending act of the early 90s Acid Jazz movement (along with groups like The Brand New Heavies, Incognito, or Los Amigos Invisbles). Still none of the associated bands of Acid Jazz sounded really anything like Jamiroquai. It’s almost as if Jamiroquai is its own genre… Jamiroquai music. What’s even more interesting is that since and during their first 3 albums (of the acid jazz era), to their subsequent albums, they traversed over so many genres from the more familiar: funk, jazz, disco, soul, rnb… to the more distant: pop, rock, reggae, film-esque, atmospheric, ballad, dance/house. With the exception of their 7th studio album, Rock Dust Light Star, they’ve retained a cohesive “Jamiroquai Sound” throughout their entire discography.

Travelling Without Moving can be looked at in many ways, one of which I like to look at as “the metaphysics of having a good time.” It’s definitely less thematic and cohesive than their previous effort, The Return of the Space Cowboy, however it is filled with such timeless hits along with being universally more accessible to anyone who enjoys music, that it makes it arguably their greatest album. Having sold over 11,000,000 copies worldwide, it is also the best-selling Funk album of all time.

The first track of the album, Virtual Insanity, is probably their most pivotal and significant song ever written. It was the song and especially its revolutionary music video that garnered the US’s attention and gained them global recognition/worldwide mainstream success. Even though before Virtual Insanity, they had a large following in Europe and the rest of the world including Japan and South America, but again it was Virtual Insanity that essentially put Jamiroquai as one of the commanding music figures of the world. Amazing what a fresh video and MTV can do. The song touches on the controversial topic of genetic engineering and the “useless twisting of new technology” which is ultimately leading to humanity’s demise. Jay Kay is a masterful songwriter as he’s able to write/sing about such dark subject matters through upbeat and catchy songs with infectious melodies and lyrics. Definitely the most popular song as even non-listeners of Jamiroquai know them because of it.

Cosmic Girl, the second track and second single off the album goes straight into vintage 70s era. Pure disco magic here with lots of string ensemble melodies and hits (disco falls!). Toby Smith, the keyboardist, main co-songwriter and arranger of Jamiroquai shows off more of his love for analog instruments (phased out Fender Rhodes chords, spacey/cartoony synth melodies and effects of Moog synthesizers) and tasteful keyboard playing. Interesting trivia: part of the lyrics talks about it being the year 1999, which is actually the future as the song/album was written in 1996.

African/Latin styles infuse the third track, Use The Force. The group’s percussionist, Sola Akingbola, had a hand in writing it and deservedly got writing credit. It combines dense percussion and polyrhythms with simple keyboard and bass grooves playing a 1, 2, 3, 5 chord progression. Positive lyrics mixed with a genuine attitude sung by Jay really carry the track too. I also feel the title of the track has a cohesive “space” quality with “cosmic” girl in relation to Star WarsEveryday is a sudden, smooth, and welcoming drop into some authentic and downtempo RnB. Really love the melody of the lyric “We can spend a little time together now that we’re alone”!! It’s complicated and catchy at the same time, fucking amazing. Great strings arrangement and “below E” bass here.

Alright is the best song on the album.. and one of my favorite ever Jamiroquai tracks. The transition from the previous track is very smooth as Alright starts very calm and warmly and smashes into a pumpin’ mid-tempo smooth ass jam. Parallel minor 9 chords: 1, 5, 2, 6… honestly nothing beats parallel minor 7s/9s, but what makes this better is just the motion of the harmony because it moves in 4ths and 5ths which are really strong harmonic movements (along with 2nds, but opposed to 3rds and 6ths [usually]). What stands out most are the honest, simple, and lovely lyrics coupled with the fucking sweetest melodies. The verses have the most singable and catchy lines topped off with one of the greatest choruses in music:

“YEA-AH! Alright! We’ll spend the night together! Wake up and Live Forever!”

Stuart Zender’s bass playing is so tasteful, and it really shows because of how simple the bass line is… just octaves of C, G, D, A and returning to C with a leading B… and he still adds so much color and flavor to the groove of the track. Toby Smith’s voicing on the Rhodes is superb and the little inner melodies he plays complement Jay’s melodies so much. The secondary background melody he plays on the Moog is so fucking awesome!! And everything else to Derrick McKenzie’s tight drumming, Simon Katz’s awesomely tasteful and subtle guitar playing, DJ D-Zire’s sick cutting/scratching, Akingbola’s smooth percussion is just perfect. The track is just so smooth and atmospheric, but punchy and fun at the same time. One of Jamiroquai’s best work. A timeless classic keepin’ it funky.

The hype is kept alive into the next track as High Times is another one of Jamiroquai’s arguably best tracks. It was the 4th single after Alright, and commercially was the least successful. It probably has the best music video of the group I’ve seen as it shows them just candidly having fun while touring with an amateur camera; so dope. Anyway, the song just kills it. It’s got a dark and dirty and funky as hell verse. I love Stu’s playing in here it’s so raw and gritty. A real unexpected and surprisingly fitting usage of piano instead of rhodes in here, Toby Smith always knows what to do :].  The horns in this also have the hottest melodies… There are just so many things to mention that come alive in Jamiroquai tracks independently and they’re all played by real people and no computers (up ’til this album)… Awesome guitar solo, more awesome scratching, drumming, it’s all so tight. Jay sings about being high and the delirium that comes with touring the world in such a descriptive and clever way. Last night turning to daylight and a minute becoming a day. The paranoia and anxiety of drugs. These are all sung with a raw attitude and it’s badass. The chorus is also super memorable and the ending line is one of the best outros of a song ever:

“Kid’s wanna give it up. Kid’s wanna give it U-UP. Time let your mind be free, searching for eternity!”

Reggae is authentically dropped hard on the next track, Drifting Along. I can’t help but to be reminded of Bob Marley on this, honestly, and in a good way. Strong deep bass here, too! Didjerama & Didjital Vibrations are such a chill back-to-back interlude of the album. Just smooth Didgeridoo sailing with jungly environments and Vibrations has such a simple, groovin’, and organic vibe it’s a low-key classic.

Travelling Without Moving, the title track of the album starts us off with a Lamborghini taking off and roaring into higher speed with Jay driving and I love hearing the clicks between shifting gears! Stuart Zender is the star of this song with his persistent and perpetual bass grooves locked into this up-tempo funk jam. Derrick’s also killing it on the drums, just pumping! The verse’s music and the chorus’ music contrast each other so well. A rhythmic and more aggressive bass line occupies the verse staying on E minor the whole way. The chorus drops us into C# minor with the most melodic bass and chord melody and progression. Jay’s melodies are really catchy in this, too. I can understand this not being a single, but I could also see it as a single, too… this song is a real classic. It’s got the barebones elements in the studio version, but the live version is much more elaborated on. More vocal harmonies, a not heard horns melody, new melodies and variations on melodies, it’s outstanding.

Even more contrasting verse/chorus sections, You Are My Love absolutely has that. Verse being more straight funk, pre-chorus and chorus turning it around and getting more harmonic motion. Very moody and upbeat track. I love Toby’s outro moog melody! Spend A Lifetime is a really classy and light-hearted ballad. Sweet lyrics and melodies combined with beautiful cello and string lines.

The hidden and bonus tracks of this album are nice additions. Do You Know Where You’re Coming From has great melodies, a great intro with the moog, and nice chords throughout. This is a collaboration with producer, M-Beat and he essentially did the drums and programming as it’s Jungle/Electronica based. Personally, I don’t like the drums in this track and wish it was done by Derrick, but it’s still a great track. Funktion is fucking awesome. Funky as hell chords/bass and straight drum beat. D-Zire’s scratching and cueing of  this hot brass riff combined with real brass playing is the best. Jay is really in party mode and has fun lyrics and singing. Just a real clean way to finish off the album!

The production on the album is also no joke. Al Stone is a masterful engineer and was critical to giving this album that very punchy, crisp, warm, analog sound. Jamiroquai is sometimes a large project as they’re not just Jay (vocals), Stu (bass), Toby (keys), Derrick (drums), Sola (percussion), Wallis (didg), DJ D-zire (DJ, lol), Simon (guitar), but you have lots of session players like the brass trio (trumpet, trombone, sax) and string ensembles (violins, violas, celli) ranging from 4 – 8 or 12 players. Keyboards can add a lot as there are sometimes three different keyboard sounds present, too. It can be pretty dense, and somehow it’s all so fitting and tastefully executed.

The era they toured with this album in 1997 was pretty much the peak of Jamiroquai as they reached the height of their success and maturity of their sound as a band. This unfortunately came to an end Jamiroquai went a different direction shortly after when recording the next album, Synkronized in 98/99. Jay Kay and Stuart Zender had their differences and Stu had to leave the group. This sucks on such a catastrophic level because Stu was a fundamental and foundational element of Jamiroquai’s sound. In fact, they were originally recording another album before Synkronized, titled Symphonized. An entire albums worth of music was recorded which some traced samples of the album indicated a deeper delve into smooth funk and latin styles. Kay scrapped the whole album when Zender left and re-wrote an recorded an entirely new album which is Synkronized. It features a new direction in their sound: some actual usage of computer/midi (beats and programming), new bassist, new forays into pop and rock sounds, etc.

Travelling Without Moving is the definitive and universal album of Jamiroquai. It captures the group when they reached a level of really understanding each other and it’s beautifully recorded. A legion of fans have been left still wanting to hear a recreation of the sound that lasted from 1993 – 1997 as it’s never been recaptured since. A must have album for every music lover and the peak of one of the greatest bands to ever exist.

Get down!

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