Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Added DVD Makes Introducing . . . Joss Stone No More Worthy

The Good: Good voice, Some of the music sounds good
The Bad: Many of the lyrics don't pop, Mortgages sound for substances, DVD is dull
The Basics: Joss Stone's third album, in the deluxe edition with additional DVD, is nothing to run out for given its lack of consistency or quality.

While this review might prompt those who love Joss Stone's music to come down on my with a wrath of fanatics, it ought not to come down from those thinking this is not the proper place for this product. Thank you Shelly for confirming that THIS is the proper place for the two-disc deluxe edition of the Joss Stone album Introducing . . . Joss Stone. This deluxe edition follows in the tradition of artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers with their Greatest Hits And Videos (reviewed here!) and Norah Jones's Not Too Late where the artist releases a digipak two disc set featuring the album and a DVD to accompany it. In the case of Introducing . . . Joss Stone, the disappointing album is not improved through the DVD which illustrates the giggling young woman mumbling through her impressions of making this album. No, I doubt even fans of Joss Stone need to see her scrunching up her face to gain an improved appreciation of her singing.

With only fourteen tracks clocking in at under forty-eight minutes, the immediate impression of this hip-hop, soul album (it ranges more toward gospel than funk as an album) is that it is lacking in ambition. This is the third album by Joss Stone and it is a clear underuse of the c.d. medium, which can hold over seventy minutes of music. The sad underachievement of the album is encapsulated on the DVD where Joss plays clips of two songs to random people to have them pick the last track to be included on the album because, as she states, she does not want too many songs on the album.

If you are a writer of songs and music and you're not eager to put too many songs on an album, you have either serious self-esteem problems or a severe lack of creativity. Whichever Stone suffers from, Introducing . . . Joss Stone suffers because the short duration of the album is the insult added to the injury of a lousy sounding work. It goes back to the old joke, "This restaurant's food stinks!" "Yeah, but at least the portions are good." As Americans - Joss Stone is British - we want more, even if we don't necessarily enjoy it.

My fundamental problem with this album is that Stone is mortgaging sound for substance and this album is a clear example of works by an artist where her sound is more important to her than what she is actually singing. On tracks like "Girl They Won't Believe It" and "Put Your Hands On Me," many of the lyrics are obscured by Stone's presentation of them. On "Girl They Won't Believe It," Stone supposedly sings, "Girl they won't believe it / I've finally found some sweet through the bitters of life / . . . Girl you won't believe it / In a world where the sun's even shining inside." After ten listens to the album, seven where I'm specifically concentrating on hearing the lyrics, I still don't get that, because Stone degenerates into incoherent mumbling midway through the lines. On "Put Your Hands On Me," she rises up into the upper scales and begins to shriek. Where Mariah Carey did such things with a sense of tune (annoying as it might have been) Stone seems to do it without that constraint. Stone seems to want to convey visceral emotions, but the mortgaging of the lyrics for the sounds comes across instead as gut-wrenching and annoying.

Added to that, the tracks become a perfect argument against the annoying conceit of overusing background singers. Background singers are given a lot of weight in gospel and some soul works. Stone explodes the annoying trend of artists in recent years to simply let background singers carry the refrain while they make noise over it (some of Christina Aguillera's works really pioneered this annoyance). Stone's new twist is that on songs like "Music," she begins a line and then simply gives it up to let the background singers take it over. This is just plain annoying; there is no more sophisticated way to phrase it. It's like saying "Yeah, I'm too good to even finish these lines." On "Music," it leaves the impression of Stone as a diva. On the bonus DVD when she whips through the lines, cutting herself off where she does, she just seems ridiculous.

Then there's the annoying stuttering scales of "Arms Of My Baby" and "Bad Habit" which has a pretty generic R&B/pop sound. The shame of the album is that Stone seems to have a real nice, smoky voice that seems like it would be ideal for soul singing. She surrenders it to production elements and ridiculous musical conceits which obscure her abilities or whatever innate talents she might have.

Moreover, the blame comes to rest pretty squarely on Stone for the writing on the album. Despite how giggly she is on the DVD for some of her attempts to express what her intent was, she is able to be more coherent on the point of some of the songs than when she is singing. "Tell Me 'bout It," arguably the best known track from the disc in the U.S., is intended to be an exhortation to men approaching Joss to be direct and expressive. The song is nowhere near as articulate, degenerating into a pop-friendly, singsong rhyme of "Tell me how you feel . . . And if the feeling's real . . . Tell me what's the deal . . ." ("Tell Me 'bout It").

In short, the album never launches as an example of any real talent. The songs oscillate between the soulful (like the superlative "Bruised But Not Broken," the lone track outside the intro that Stone did not write) and the funky - like "Put Your Hands On Me" - in a way that does not illustrate a diversity of style and ability, but rather a slapped together, reckless assembly of the album. It feels like Stone does not know what she wants to do, how she wants to perform, so she attempts the buckshot approach and the result is uninspired.

Fortunately, Stone did not pen the real trainwreck of the album, "Change" the pretentious opening track from Vinnie Jones. Jones expels gas about the nature of change in the most generic and blase terms that only a teen desperate to understand the larger world would accept. Stone would have been served better by opening with herself as opposed to some ridiculous British pseudo-philosophy lesson.

This is just a disappointment and were it not for the sound elements and moments when Stone's voice is presented in a way to highlight it (and, honestly, the music video for "Tell Me 'bout It" on the DVD), this set would be rated even lower. As it is, it's not worth the time and attention of anyone looking for something consistent, interesting or doing anything qualitatively interesting in R&B or soul.

The best track is "Bruised But Not Broken," the low point is "Change," though it doesn't get much better.

For other vocally-powerful female recordings, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Ella And Louis - Ella Fitzgerald
21 - Adele
Tear The World Down - We Are The Fallen


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page by clicking here!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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