It isn't so simple as to say, "the Space Cowboy is back," but this is certainly the best album Jay Kay and gang have put out since 1996, when the last of their initial great trilogy, Traveling Without Moving, graced us with Alright, Virtual Insanity, Cosmic Girl, and other quintessential acid-funk tracks. After several--and perhaps increasingly--disappointing albums, many of us diehard fans have been losing hope for a return to the hey-day of the 90s, and would have settle for some combination of the best of the last four albums, all of which produced strong tracks but all weak relative to the first three.
In Automaton we have a surprise: music that both incorporates elements of 25 years of Jamiroquai, but also branches out and adds new flavors, and, best of all, stays funky throughout, all in a fresh way that only occasionally feels like a rehashing of old riffs. I'm not quite sure what to call this album...Astro House? Dystopian funk? Futuristic groove? Jay Kay might not have the vocal range he did in his 20s, but like a latter-day Joni Mitchell, his husky voice has character and depth, and he still knows how to craft exquisitely infectious grooves.
After it seemed the law of diminishing returns had seeped into Jamiroquai's last few albums, Automaton is a very pleasant surprise. It isn't Jamiroquai's best work, but it is their best album in two decades and adds fresh ideas to their oeuvre while retaining their signature sound.
EDIT: After further and more careful listening, I would say my estimation is back a half-step: still the best album since Traveling Without Moving, but with no song that I absolutely love, just a half dozen or so that are very good to excellent - in that way, reminding me of Synkronized. My favorites, in track order: Shake it On, Automaton, Summer Girl, We Can Do It, Vitamin, Carla. A few more are pretty good and the rest are solid, but none that I would exclude from a expanded playlist.
In a way this album follows more off the Synkronized/A Funk Odyssey 21st century techno-funk, with Dynamite and Rock Dust Light Star being a bit of a detour into (unfortunately) into pop-rock. Anyhow, still an excellent album, and better than the last four albums.
Also, note that the Japanese version of this album has a 13th track, "Nice and Spicy." Not sure how to get that.