The Good: Good voice, Moments of poetic lyrics
The Bad: "Live" effects, Musically very limited
The Basics: With Pieces Of You, Jewel burst onto the popular music scene and she deserved the success it brought her, more or less.
Often there comes a moment when we realize we are not young, hip people anymore. I was never hip, but I was younger once and I at least felt like pop culture was (partially) my own. That changed when I was in college and I recall the precise moment it happened. I was working at Bradlee's, a little department store in the Northeast that was in the process of bankruptcy liquidation, in the mall in Binghamton, NY and I was at the Electronics department register when two girls (very much girls) came in, ran for Jewel's c.d. Pieces Of You and began earnestly singing it to one another. Having no connection to the song or that culture anymore, I suddenly felt old and out-of-touch.
It has, thus, taken me over a decade to getting around to listening to Jewel's music objectively and the irony for me is that I have long since reviewed her later album, Joy: A Holiday Collection (reviewed here!) and it is only now that I am restarting at her beginning to see how and where she came from musically. Honestly, after listening to Pieces Of You nine times, I am surprised she made it. This is not to say that Jewel is not talented; she is, but her music is . . . boring. After so many listens (it's beginning the tenth spinning as I begin this review) my overwhelming sensation upon hearing this album is boredom. I've heard it, I get it and it's a real take-it or leave-it musical experience.
With fourteen tracks, clocking in at 58:56, Pieces Of You is very much the creative endeavor of Jewel (Jewel Kilcher). She wrote (or co-wrote for two of the tracks) all of the songs on the album. As well, she provides the lead vocals and plays guitar. Writing, singing and playing all of her own music is always a plus in my book and I give credit where credit is due in that department. Jewel certainly is a creative force and Pieces Of You is certainly HER debut. She even is credited as a co-arranger on three of the tracks, so she's getting some production-type credits early on, which is a nice touch. In the liner notes, she has even included eight poems that are not made songs (though I'd love to hear "Las Vegas" put to music!). In other words, this is very much Jewel's endeavor.
Starting with her lyrics, Jewel does put up - rather effectively - the aura of being an artist. She is a poet and I recall debating with one of my writing professors back in college the merits of some of her works. Fortunately, I did not have access to all of the source material at the time. For, even though I like "I'm Sensitive," it is not sterling poetry when Jewel writes and sings "It doesn't take a talent to be mean / Your words can crush things that are unseen / So please be careful with me, I'm sensitive / And I'd like to stay that way . . .I have this theory that if we're told we're bad / Then that's the only idea we'll ever have / . . .'Cause anyone can start a conflict / It's harder yet to disregard it." I like the message and - truth be told - it might well be the best surprise on an album that has such overplayed hits as "Who Will Save Your Soul," "Foolish Games" and "You Were Meant For Me," but it is not fabulous writing.
And while I respect artists who are daring in their diction, using obscenities - even in a rebellious form - doesn't fly with me all the time. On Pieces Of You - the single - Jewel goes for champion of social consciousness by asking "She's an ugly girl, does it make you want to kill her?" followed by more lines of violence done to said ugly girl before trying to turn the line around into something that is an aspect of the aggressor (i.e. aggression is ugly and that's a part of you). She continues with the theme, attacking pretty girls, homosexuals and Jews. The most problematic aspect here is that she refers to homosexuals exclusively as "faggot.” We get that Jewel is trying to express it from the perspective of the person overcome with hatred, but we get it after the first use of the epitaph. Moreover, following the many repetitions of "faggot," we get to Jew. There are certainly plenty of epitaphs to use in place of "Jew" that would indicate a place of pure hatred in the mind of the subject, so one has to ask: why does Jewel throw around one slanderous term but patently avoid the other? Is she all right with potentially being branded a homophobe, but squeamish about being called an Anti-semite? That seems odd, especially considering that she is likely neither. However, the song is gutted one way or the other by the lack of commitment to the theme or the way it is so overbearing as to almost sound like what it is supposed to be against.
But it's not all social statements on Pieces Of You (the album). Some of them are simple, direct love songs to be sung plaintively between girls still imagining their first kiss. Yes, this is the album with "Foolish Games" and it is hard to see how it would not captivate preteen girls everywhere with its longing poetry. For example, Jewel writes "I watched from my window, / Always felt I was outside looking in on you / You were always the mysterious one / With dark eyes and careless hair, / You were fashionably sensitive, but too cool to care" ("Foolish Games") which pretty much sounds like the poetic definition of middle school crush to me. In the credit where credit is due department, Jewel captures that sentiment pretty perfectly, even if it was irritatingly overplayed.
And oh-so-melodramatically sung. Yes, from the first time I heard "Who Will Save Your Soul?" my thought was, "Wow, this is a woman trying to prove herself!" There was a Wayne Brady interview with Mariah Carey where she admitted she was insecure and wanted people to like her and Brady said, something to the effect of "you can stop; we LIKE you!" It is with that sense of sentiment that I wish someone involved in producing Jewel's album would have stopped her and said, "Jewel, you're already signed, relax and just sing." She does this (finally) on tracks like "Amen," which closes the album, but before we are far too often subjected to Melodrama Heavy. On "Foolish Games" sounds like she is trying to sing her heart out (literally) and "Who Will Save Your Soul" makes her sound like she is constipated. Many of the other tracks ("Little Sister," "I'm Sensitive") are just pure pop in her sound and it is easy to tire of her high-pitched cooing sound.
Not all of the vocals can be claimed as successful, no matter how much they are Jewel's innate talents and not production elements. The epitome of this is "Adrian." This seven minute opus has Jewel moaning her way through the song like she's sat on a tack and is trying to perform while prying it out of her buttocks. Seriously, this song is painful to listen to and that it isn't over quickly just makes it more unbearable. Stuck in between candy-coated vocals (of which "I'm Sensitive," which follows it is the most perfect example), "Adrian" is just irritating to listen to and is not at all emblematic of the quality of vocals Jewel is clearly able to execute.
Some of the songs are presented as live tracks, ending with an audience's applause and this is particularly irritating on tracks like Pieces Of You and "Little Sister." That said, Jewel does seem to have serious range going up into soprano range effortlessly on tracks like "Little Sister." Yes, she can sing and at her worst, it is still easy to see how she got signed. Moreover, some of the tracks illustrate a truly great potential for Jewel, like "Near You Always" which should have been a fourth single from this abum.
Overall, though, the music is boring. The songs are universally light pop ballads that range from sounding like she was in a coffee house singing (Pieces Of You) to slightly more produced pieces that are incongruent ("You Were Meant For Me"). Instead of lending her a diverse sound, it simply sounds like Jewel doesn't know what she wants to be presenting to her audience.
But that is not enough to keep me from recommending this album. Yeah, I'm as surprised as you, but with an album so perfectly average, I often let it come down to a coin toss. In this case, I am justifying the decision of the coin by suggesting that when Jewel does eventually release a "Best Of" album, it is unlikely to contain "I'm Sensitive," which is catchy enough to be the superlative track of the album and that today I'm just not willing to call the twelve million people who bought this album whiny preteen girls. It's erratic, it's underdeveloped, but it is a start that showed real promise and artistry, which put her ahead of everyone else in the Blonde Revolution of the mid-1990s.
The best track is "I'm Sensitive," the worst (of the memorable tracks) is "Adrian."
For other, former, Female Artist Of The Month reviews, be sure to check out my takes on:
An Ancient Muse - Loreena McKennitt
50 Greatest Hits - Reba McEntire
Beginnings - Shania Twain
For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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