Jewel — 0304 (Album Review)
Jewel started her career and a folksy singer/songwriter who had struggled hard to make her way into the business. She was at one point homeless driving down to California to make her break. Pieces of Me would be that break for her in 1995 giving her the hits “Who Will Save Your Soul”, “You Were Meant For Me”, and “Foolish Games”. She would continue to further craft her pop/folk sound on the follow up album “Spirit”. It was near the end of this album that this folksy sound would begin to get some glittery polish, as the single “Jupiter (Swallow the Moon)” would receive a radio mix that would prove to be mildly successful for the artist. The follow up to this record, This Way, would toy around with several different sounds: country, folk, and pop. Jewel’s music would continue to receive pop gloss for radio on the singles for “Break Me” and “This Way”. It would be the last single, “Serve the Ego”, that would be that catalyst to what would shape her next record. This song would receive a completely different treatment, getting remixed for the clubs. Jewel had noted that she had become increasingly interested in club/dance music and the club scene. Her decision to release this track to DJs would prove to be a brilliant one, giving her a number one on the Billboard Dance and Club charts for the first time. This would give Jewel the motivation to create an album with dance/club sound.
The first taste of this sound would come in April of 2003 with the single “Intuition”. This album would be produced by Lester Mendez, who has worked with Ricky Martin, Shakira, Nelly Furtado, Enrique Iglesias, and Jessica Simpson to name a few. Those glossy, club, hip-hop inspired sounds work great for those artists, but it proves to be a very odd pairing for Jewel. “Intuition” sees Jewel singing about the illusions of pop culture, not following fads and trends, and following your heart. This is sung over sounds of a French accordion and a very stylized bling rap era pop/hip-hop sound. It’s definitely an ear worm. The video shows Jewel going from everyday activities to this hyper sexualized, over the top music video tropes from rap and pop. The irony feels like it is lost in just how over the top that it is. In calling it out in such a way, you almost become a part of the problem. Authenticity is the other issue here. I feel that a lot of people use this to draw ire to anything different from the norm of an artist, but here it feels meritted. On top of the sound and video, this song would go on to be used in ads for Schick Intuition razors. It feels very hypocritical of what the song is saying.
The release of the album in June of 2003 gave the public a full look at the sound that Jewel and Lester had crafted. “Stand” would be the second single pulled from the album. It contains the same bling rap/pop sounds that dominated pop music in the early 00s. Jewel’s usually deeper lyrics feel so hollow and listless here, “There’s children paying bills, There’s monks buying thrills, There’s pride for sale in magazines, There’s pills for rent to make you clean, Marvin Gaye, there’s no brother, brother ,Woody Guthrie’s land can’t feed mother”. It just feels cheap over the stylized beats and generic sound. “Run 2 U”, although also thoroughly stuck in the early 00s, works a bit better with Jewel’s sound. It contains those glossy club beats, but the inclusion of the acoustic guitar at least give it a bit more of an authenticity to it. Jewel says in the liner notes that she wanted to combine a dance beat with classic folk lyric/melody. It’s definitely one of the best on the album. “Leave The Lights On” was apparently a Cole Porter inspiration, that I don’t particularly get that at all. It just feels like you added a generic husky bar jazz sound to a track that Jennifer Lopez or Nelly Furtado said no to. It’s not special and feels so out of place for a Jewel song. The thing with an artist like Nelly Furtado, who utilized a sound like this (albeit without the Madonna Dick Tracy sound) is that the words at least had something to say. It feels like Jewel’s both phoning it in and rolling her eyes. “2 Find U” has the sound that of any pop act that you would find in the dollar section of your record store would have. The piano and beats feel so cheap, not to mention the annoying text speak song titles. It feels like she’s talking down to pop/dance music listeners. “Fragile Heart” has this sickly banjo in the beginning over this off putting pop beat. Here’s some of the lyrics: “Last Saturday we ate dinner at you parents place, Last Saturday you said ‘How you feel will not go away’, All the fishes in the sea they could not be happier than me”. I feels so teenage, but not in a good way. “Doin’ Fine” is another track that I think works better. It has more of a guitar heavy sound to it. I’m not saying that the more electronic based sounds wouldn’t work for her, but the overall tone of much of them here really didn’t age well after 2 to 3 years. “2 Become 1” is the last single from the record and sounds like if you took a Coldplay song from the Parachute era and glossed it up for top 40 pop radio. Again, I think it’s probably one of the best tracks off of the record. Jewel would go on to rerecord this song for her Perfectly Clear record in 2008 with a more pop country sound. The liner notes says that “Haunted” is from a stalkers point of view. It’s the “scary track” with its reversed tones in the verses and minor key and evolve to a pop major key by the chorus. It’s bad. Jewel could have done quite a bit with this song lyrically to give it some depth and interest, but its just shallow and bland. “And I won’t be stoppin’ just ’cause your knees are knockin’, When I decide to drop in, So don’t make a sound, ’Cause there’s no one around, To come between us now, I’m gonna haunt you, girl”, they are so bare minimum. The song also ends with these “ohs” in an almost sexual nature that don’t add anything to the track other than being distracting. “Sweet Temptation” is another cheap pop track about giving into your urges over wanting someone. The chorus lines, “When you fall into me, It feels so sweet, like dreaming…”, bother me so much. I feel like it should be so sweet like candy as you’re the sweet temptation. This is a sugar-free sweet that I will be staying away from for the safety of my stomach. The liner notes also say they wanted to do something like The Cure and I’m not sure what Cure record they were listening to, cause that inspiration is not there for me. “Yes U Can” was apparently originally written for Santana, but he passed and Jewel recorded it instead. Santana did a smart thing. It’s sounds like a knock off Britney Spears track with lyrics like, “Say hello to the room where the party’s jumpin’, Where the boys all freak ’cause the boots are bumpin’, Where the girls are naughty and always saying ‘Yes you can’…”. It’s so lazy. I know I am being very harsh, but knowing Jewel’s prior works, it feels like a joke. I can’t tell you how much I hate not only the title to “U & Me = Love”, but the song as well. It’s so lazy with its rhythms and song writing, it’s laughable. It sounds like one of those Disney pop groups that randomly get a hit off a VHS movie to only disappear into obscurity a month later. Here’s a taste of the lyrics: “Old Spice is nice, But sweat is better, E-mail is cool, But romance lives in a letter, Batteries are fine, but I’m energized all the time, You and m-e spells l-o-v-e to me…”. It’s so cringe. She wrote “Hands” and “You Were Meant For Me”! Trash. “America” only inches its way over “U & Me = Love” to be the worst song Jewel has ever written. It’s her political track. The early 2000s, post 9/11, were a strained time period on political views. The views on going into a new war were extremely polarizing, with many voicing their opposition to it. Artists like Green Day made a great record on reflecting the mindset and opinions on the matters. Jewel wrote “America” with such gems as “We are getting tan in America, We love Spam in America, Polanski’s banned from America…”. She does say fuck, but it’s censored. It just feels like it’s making fun of me somehow. It’s awful trash. Madonna got laughed at for her soy latte rap on “American Life”, but at least she had the gall to try and make some statement with the video (even though the original was scrapped). The last song is “Becoming”, which is another middle of the road pop song. It sounds like something Michelle Branch would record. It’s fine.
I have been extremely harsh to this record, but I want to bring up another record that was a tonal change for an artist. Liz Phair’s first foray into pop was released the same month as Jewel’s. Her eponymous record was critically panned for being a “sell out” for going pop. To compare the record, Metacritic gave 0304 a 63 out of 100, and Liz Phair a 40 out of 100. I don’t understand how we can grade on a curve for one artist and then fail out right another. Liz’s album was definitely a pop record, with the singles “Why Can’t I” and “Extraordinary” being co-written with The Matrix who had worked with Avril Lavigne. The difference to me between this record and 0304 is authenticity. Liz may be polished and processed to a pop shine, but lyrically Liz is Liz. “Little Digger”, “Red Light Fever”, “Take a Look”, “My Bionic Eyes” all feel like a Liz Phair song lyrically and in ways sonically. It’s pop rock. Jewel’s doesn’t feel anything like Jewel. I will be very transparent and say I am a very big Liz Phair fan, but I’m also an honest music lover. I don’t understand how Jewel’s 0304 got better critical reviews than Liz’s other than Jewel was kinda poppier and Liz was the indie queen who decided to go pop. It’s crazy. I plan to do a full review on the eponymous Liz Phair record in the future.
Jewel would go back to her folksy sound with her follow up record Goodbye Alice in Wonderland and go into country music territory with her following records. It was an experiment for Jewel, and I applaud her for taking a risk and doing what she wanted. I just wish she would have but effort into it. It just doesn’t feel like it was taken seriously or somehow talking down to me in its extremely shallow lyrical nature. The “irony” here is that it doesn’t feel ironic, it just feels cheap. The stand out tracks here:
- “Run 2 U”
- “2 Become 1”
My overall rating: 2 out of 10, for the years it references in the title