en: The Return of the Space Cowboy [info]
When Jason 'Jay Kay' Cheetham and his band appeared in 1992 as part of the acid jazz movement, they were viewed with a great deal of suspicion by the rock and soul cognoscenti. Aside from their leader's silly hat, they - keyboard player Toby Smith, bassist Stuart Zender, drummer Derrick McKenzie and Wallis Buchanan on didgeridoo - seemed too arriviste; he was a showbiz child (his mother is comedienne Karen Kay), had bad boy credentials and a deep love for Stevie Wonder's music. Naming his band after a combination of 'jam session' and the Iroquois Indians, theirs was a weird, stoned funk that sounded like some lost album from 1972.
The Return of the Space Cowboy was the 1994 follow-up to their debut, the previous year's Emergency on Planet Earth. Q Magazine said at the time that "only Jay Kay could come up with as naff a title as The Return of the Space Cowboy and make it sound about right", and it's true: it shouldn't work, but it does. The whole album happens leisurely - it plays for 71 minutes (just 10 minutes shorter than Wonder's Innervisions and Fulfillingess' First Finale put together) with most tracks around the six-minute mark. The mellow funk of Manifest Destiny meanders before drifting off in a brass heavy coda. Morning Glory is laid back, a blissed-out joy; perfect comedown music with percussion darting from speaker to speaker. The Kids is the only time the album strays from its trippy groove, with its heavy wah-wah opening and Kay's affirmation that "now we're getting nasty".
Space Cowboy, Half the Man and Stillness in Time were its UK-charting singles; the album reached number two domestically and spent over half a year on the chart. More importantly, it established the group in America, and its influence was huge, with Morning Glory sampled by Missy Elliott and Manifest Destiny by Tupac Shakur. The album hasn't really dated one bit as it paid so little attention to musical trends of the time.
Although it still leaves this reviewer with the overwhelming feeling that he'd rather be listening to Stevie Wonder or Donny Hathaway, you cannot deny how well this is all done. The Return of the Space Cowboy captures this first phase of Jamiroquai at their very best.