Tori Amos sings about misery and pain and everything stormy. Jewel goes the other extreme – she sings about the healing power of love. Love will conquer everything, and everything else can go fly. Love is it. If Jewel’s debut album Pieces Of You is laden with hey-all-you-need-is-love shtick, this album, her follow-up, has it in greater overdose. Nice, but Jewel is only in her early twenties. She lacks the age and charisma to preach about this sort of thing without coming off as sounding totally pretentious at best and at worst, arouses one’s suspicion that she may have ingested some illegal substances. That’s the bad news. Good news? Patrick Leonard, best known for co-producing some of Madonna’s best work, helps her rein her in dramatics and infuses her music with some much-needed melody structure.
Indeed, some of the songs are actually country in nature, like Life Uncommon, a song that has me tapping my feet with Jewel’s vocals and gaily guitar twangs. The album starts off beautifully with Deep Water, a song about – what else? – life ain’t nothing without love, sister. The upbeat swing-your-hips momentum is maintained in subsequent songs like Hands, Jupiter, Kiss the Flame and Down So Long.
Yes, good listenable, radio-friendly songs (my type of music actually) but I really cringe when I sneaked a peek into the lyric sheet. Jewel doesn’t preach as much as she bombards me with shallow psychedelic love power philosophy. “What’s simple is true: I love you,” she croons in What’s Simple Is True; “And not to worry ‘cos worry is wasteful and useless,” she maintains in Hands; “So he found himself a whore to love while daisies choke in the window sill,” she warbles in Innocence Maintained. Excuse me while I go green in the face.
It is only in Jupiter that she hints at what lyrical beauty she may create should she trim off her pop-psych mentality. The words are totally erotic as she describes her fascination with her lover’s body.
My hands are two travelers
They’ve crossed oceans and lands
But they are too small
On the continent of your skin
The song conjures earthy pagan images of heady sensuality, and the effect is sublime. Then she has to follow that song with the embarrassing Fat Boy, a song about self-image and confidence that goes awfully wrong thanks to more heavy-handed lyrics.
Adding more to the feeling of calculated sentimentality is the inclusion of a song Jewel claims is the song her mother sang to her when she was a child. This Little Bird stars off beautifully thanks to mommy Nedra Carroll’s maternal vocals, then Jewel has to come in and start yodeling as if she’s attending a funeral of a loved one – way, way over the top in her attempt to sound lovey-dovey sincere.
The songs are pretty listenable, some are excellent. Just stay away from reading the lyric sheet – don’t blame me if you get diabetes and a total aversion to the word love afterwards.