Move over pop pretenders and soul has-beens! JAMIROQUAI is here with a gob full of attitude, svelte Stevie Wonder-ish vocal cords,
a dandy new hat and enough rumour to give Suede some stiff competition among the gossip-mongers.
Most importantly though, as IAN McCANN reckons, he's got the musical muscle to back it all up.
There's no doubt which one is the singer. Four lads are lined up in a genteel Shepherd's Bush street. It's one of the first spring-like days of the year, and the sun illuminates the wall of a railway bridge, beneath which a train line glints down to Olympia, half a mile away.
Three of the lads aren't Jamiroquai. They're his band, or at least, the permanent part of it. While they languidly stand around,
the singer is doing handstands on a bollard, without losing ether his dark glasses or his huge trademark fur hat.
This guy is so cool - assuming you like fur hats and ignore his volatile speaking manner - it's untrue...
Which is how it should be. You expect a singer in a cool, fashionable young band to be cool and fashionable.
What's more, you expect him to deliver the goods and, on record at least, Jamiroquai does.
Except it almost seems too cool, too perfect. His two singles, 'When You Gonna Learn' and 'Too Young To Die'
(the former his sole Acid Jazz release, the latter his major debut, both in the charts at the time of writing), are about as good as
you can except for someone who is still at a very early stage of development. Given the amount of passionate adulation
they've received they could be soul's 'Drowners' and 'Metal Mickey'. Consequently, like Suede,
there are rumours about Jamiroquai, almost all difficult to confirm, and at least twice as many opinions.
Here are a few of them. Several pundits of my acquaintance call them "soulless". One compared their recent appearance on TOTP to
that of Curiosity, not the most flattering parallel to draw. They snipe about just how many of the band are really signed to Sony,
although Jesus Jones, and plenty of other bands, fall prey to that one. Perhaps the nastiest opinion-cum-rumour of all came from one character who knew what Jamiroquai's mum, Karen Kaye, did for a living. An impressionist who once won a New Faces ('70's TV talent show), Jamiroquai mère has got one hell of a voice herself, and the nasty story is that she taught her son to sing like Stevie Wonder,
Gil Scott-Heron and all the other obvious influences that stand out a mile in Jamiroquai's records.
But hell, even if it was true, who cares? If your Mum can teach you to wipe your arse, why shouldn't shteach you to sing?
Jamiroquai, a white guy singing a '70s-ish, faintly retro, rare groove powered soul music, is an easy target. And he know it.
"I don't care what is said about me, what they write," he says, dismissively. "Epic signed me for eight albums, and in reality,
I might make 50. All I know is what I can do, and that's write great songs and get them out there."
A sweeping, almost megalomaniacal statement. But from where Jamiroquai stands, why shouldn't he feel like that?
The world is throwing open the doors in front of him. He's got a debut album due out in June (which he's still writing, so except a delay),
his band is pretty good, and he wasn't made the error of previous saviours of British soul such as the Young Disciples and Soul II Soul: he can, and does, do it live right from the word go. In fact, in keeping with the idea that there's something retro about him, Jamiroquai's ideas on gigs, spoken from within a recording studio packed with Midi equipment, are like something from a Keep Music Live campaign.
Jamiroquai is not backwards in coming forwards. "I like a rant," he says, and he's not kidding. He's pacing up and down the tiny studio,
waving his arms about for emphasis and standing on top of a chair when he's feeling really animated, like a hyperactive child.
Not for him a surly, sulky cat-and mouse interview. He spews out opinions and to hell with the consequences.
There's an audience here - his well-spoken girlfriend, his publicist, and me. That's enough to give him a platform, and away he goes.
Even when he contradicts himself, such as his love for the environment and the Native American way of life (Jam Iroquois - music and Indians) and his adoration of the motor vehicle (a dodgy 1972 BMW) he isn't much bothered. Hell, take him as he is.
You ever met anyone who wasn't a hypocrite? And besides which, he's on such a high at the moment, having jazz-funked into
the charts with such extraordinary ease that he'd probably be like this even if there was no-one at all to listen to him.
Even when he's moaning about the state of the planet, which he often is, he sports a winning grin.
Despite this, frontiersman's hat notwithstanding, there's something anonymous about Jamiroquai. He's a small, slight figure in boring straight cord trousers, wearing the regulation low-toop trainers of the modish jazz-funkateer - untrendy pink Pumas in this case.
He's not classically handsome. His voice is straightforward, West London (Ealing, actually) comfortable suburbia, although he offers a somewhat vague story about some time spent dossing at mates' houses because he was too skint to get anywhere of his own.
There's a small, puckered scar around the bottom of his nose, although he's got good bones to encourage a narrow,
hard pout around a cigarette. It's his eyes, dark, penetrating beads, that draw attention.
They tell you that he's driven, a character with somewhere to go, even if he doesn't know exactly where, yet.
"I just started with a little SP1200 drum machine," he says, when asked from whence he sprang,
"and I just thought, from listening to what I heard in the charts, that I could be done better.
On most fronts, in the music that was being played, in the songs, in the way they were delivered,
in the lyrical content. There was more to be said, no-one was f---ing saying anything. I got the feeling that people were sick of what was
in the charts. The things that got to Number One - it's outrageous. I began to wonder how the public could have the bad taste
to choose the records that they do, and then I realised, of course, that it's because they're fed them..."
It's almost pointless quoting Jamiroquai: you'd not represent a quarter of what he's got to say in an entire NME.
There's how he hates the music biz, about how he loves soul-jazz, what he thinks about speed bumps in our roads
(he has a conviction for dangerous driving, so the motoring authorities draw special venom), and,
a particular favourite, how no-one is saying anything in music to change the world.
He admits to believing that music can change things, a belief that maybe ties in with his apparent fixation on the funky grooves of the early '70s, a period when the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye were lyrically putting the world to rights.
His own lyrics, though, aren't as strong as he seems to believe: anyone that says "So politicians, keep your distance"
in a song ('Too Young To Die') can't be all good. However, if that's naive,
it's because he is still young - 23 - compared to his superannuated idols, not that age is always a sign of maturity.
Later on in the afternoon, he plays me a new song, 'Revolution'. It's an outrageous, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production,
where hurtling layers of horns, strings, military snare fills, flutes and funky fuzz-bass pile one on top of the other, while Jamiroquai cries,
in that voice that has already become almost as much of a trademark as that of his most obvious influence, Stevie Wonder.
"Sometimes I think that music is the only chance we have for a revolution," he comments. It's another naive statement, but he means it:
music has liberated him from the run-of-the-mill in the past year, so for him it has worked. I tell him that the feel of 'Revolution' reminds me of Curtis Mayfield's 'Don't Worry, If There's A Hell Below, We're All Going To Go', but Jamiroquai looks blank, leaving it to his drummer to nod in agreement. If he's really ripping off the funky originals, how come he doesn't know a classic like that?
"The whole thing," he asserts, meaning the music business, "is run by the same people all the time, and they're out of touch.
They're not realising the needs. They're wondering why you've got no great bands anymore. Why? Because you (they) discourage the live aspect of music, and discourage the crossing over of music, they discourage black artists unless they're working in a way the business finds acceptable. It's bullshit. Some people are trying different things (he nods towards my Arrested Development T-shirt),
but generally we're in a period where everyone uses the same bloody beat... what the f--- are they doing?"
It's the sort of rant that the more animated indie artist might go in for, but Jamiroquai isn't indie in eighter the generic,
or literal, sense of the term. He is, however, reputedly left to his own devices by Sony,
which seems reasonable since he's given them a hit at the first time of asking.
Later, I see him working in the studio. Toby Smith, the keyboard player, selects a suitably old-fashioned sound from a module,
and Jamiroquai, over a spare, absolute-minimum drumbeat, starts to sing the riff he's looking for.
While this is going on, the bass player, a 17-year-old maestro called Stuart Zender, is working on what everyone
in the black music biz, even, erm, white black musicians like this lot, calls a B-line.
Within minutes there's a real groove going, and Jamiroquai - J to his mates, short for Jason - is crooning other parts.
It's an astonishingly quick, impressive way to work. Apparently, Jamiroquai is carrying loads of bits of songs in his head,
just waiting for the opportunity to slam them down. If he usually works at this tempo,
it's no wonder that his stuff has a live air even when much of it is coming out of a little Proteus Box of tricks.
While he's working on the song, he's grooving around like a someone's put maggots in his knickers.
There's no doubt that he's mad about his job, and, if the way he talks is anything to go by, it is all coming incredibly
easy at the moment: no wonder there are rumours and niggling ressentments.
In the end, Jamiroquai batters down your resistance with sheer self-belief. Say that 'Too Young To Die', a broad-sweep attack on war, is simplistic, or that he really doesn't have any plans to watch his revolutionnary, ecological Iroquois talk, and you're almost as naive as
Jamiroquai appears to be. Of course 'Too Young To Die' is simplistic. It's a pop song about no more war, three minutes of funk.
What do you except, Das Kapital? Of course Jamiroquai has no scheme to improve the world. Neither has any 'protest singer' you care to name. At least Jamiroquai is prepared to put his ass on the line, to say what he believes in, and f--- you if you don't agree.
"Alright," he says, "maybe you disagree with what I'm saying. But you're f---ing blind if you do. What do you want, that concrete world with no trees, where everything looks like South Peckam estate? 'Cos if that's what you want, just sit there and say (he affects a whining voice)
'What can we do, what can we do?' If you want to change something, just get off you arse and get on with it."