Jamiroquai’s debut album Emergency on Planet Earth is a solid platinum gem for all bass players, emanating from a time when grunge was starting to wane and acid jazz was becoming a major musical entity. With its first single, When You Gonna Learn, released on Acid Jazz in 1992, its sound captured the moment and led to bandleader and singer Jason ‘Jay Kay’ Cheetham signing a deal with Sony before he even had his own fully-fledged band.
It wasn’t long before that was rectified – and with bass wonder Stuart Zender in the chair, live shows and the subsequent single, Too Young To Die, almost guaranteed the LP the UK number one spot on its release in August 1993.
Zender used a natural Warwick Streamer Stage I four-string, along with a pink Music Man Stingray, for the recording of the album, although Andrew Levi from the Brand New Heavies is featured on bass for the first track, When You Gonna Learn. Medium gauge roundwound bass strings – probably Elites courtesy of the Bass Centre in Wapping, London – were the order of the day, and although Zender could be seen using various SWR, Trace Elliot, and Hartke amplification, in the studio it’s highly likely that he went direct into the desk, with effects and compression added afterwards.
Opening to the tones of a didgeridoo, a feature of quite a few subsequent Jamiroquai albums, When You Gonna Learn is a prime example of Kay’s stance on the ecological issues of the time (has anything changed?) mixed with a highly infectious groove, underpinned by Levi’s root-fifth-octave bass pattern in the verses and a root-octave disco vibe in the chorus.
Too Young To Die really caught the public’s attention, sending the single up the charts and creating a significant buzz around the band. The bass tone is woody, earthy and organic, and it’s pushed to the front of the mix, with a fair smattering of string and fret noise for good measure. This caught the attention of bass players across the continent.
Hooked Up features a compressed bassline with a smidgeon of envelope filter thrown in to give the bass tone a bubbling edge alongside the busy horn line. The Warwick Streamer can be heard at its woody best here, and as the album progresses, Zender’s funk and fusion influences, along with Mark King and Alphonso Johnson, are obvious. If I Like It, I Do It is a great example of using space to build a bassline with staccato finger lines. The bass also holds back in the verses, building up to a busier part in the chorus, which uses a continuous descending line before working back up the fingerboard.
Music Of The Mind is a trippy instrumental incorporating some fine string parts (Jay could never hide his love of disco strings, right from the start) interwoven with the keys of the late Toby Smith. The chorus has a more Latin/salsa feel, again visiting a root-fifth-octave pattern. The Warwick tone is again at the forefront of the band, a great advertisement for the German company’s products at that time.
The fourth single, Emergency..., features a tight slap line, showcasing Zender’s thumb skills, and a tasty solo from 2’10” to 2’26”. It’s not often a bassist gets such exposure on a single! Whatever It Is... is a dirty, slippery slice of funk, with the bass panned very much towards the neck pickup for a fat, ballsy tone with a hint of distortion as Zender digs in. Again, this track makes great use of tight fingerstyle note flurries followed by a pause, letting the track breathe and bounce along.
Blow Your Mind was the third single and features a fairly repetitive bass-line that is heavily compressed, giving a slightly ‘squashed’ sound, and an envelope filter or auto-wah effect has also been used to give it a funkier edge. Revolution 1993 features a bass synth in places alongside Zender’s instrument, making this an album stuffed full of bass goodness.
The album went to no.1 in the UK, eventually going platinum there, as well in France and Japan. The year after its release, Jamiroquai were nominated for a clutch of Brit Awards including Best New Artist, Best British Group and Best British Dance Act while Emergency on Planet Earth was nominated for Best British Album, while Too Young to Die" was nominated for Best British Video. The band, and Stuart Zender were totally on the map.
Jamiroquai’s Emergency on Planet Earth is available to buy and stream.