Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yes, 0304 Truly Is Jewel's Sellout Album: Inane Dance Themes Gut Jewel's Integrity

The Good: A few catchy beats/lines
The Bad: Music is homogeneously bad, Lyrics are the dumbest Jewel has ever written,Voice is produced over.
The Basics: Repetitive, poorly-written and with music whose sole purpose seems to be getting people to dance (energetically) 0304 truly is Jewel's sellout album and one of the worst albums I've ever heard!

As I near the end of my sojourn through the musical works of Jewel (Jewel Kilcher), I hit the album I openly admit I prejudged based on its first single. When Jewel released her song "Intuition," many of us cringed and judging by how I am the first to review this album after it being on the market for five years, I suspect that cringe went through Jewel's loyal fanbase and rather than negatively review one of her albums, they just hoped people might quietly forget it. Too bad: I suffered through four listens to 0304 (I couldn't even make it to my usual eight!) and if "Intuition" might make the loyal fans of the folk sound of Jewel's pop-rock cringe, the album would positively mortify them.

0304 is, quite simply, a terrible album and not only because Jewel abandons her quiet, girlish poetry in favor of dance beats, much the way Sophie B. Hawkins turned away from her guitar for synths on Wilderness (reviewed here!). No, here the problem is that Jewel abandons any sensibility she has toward any of the initial quality she presented as an artist on her debut Pieces Of You and afterward. In other words, the fundamental problem with 0304 is that Jewel's natural voice is produced over, her lyrics are simply dumb and the instrumentals that accompany her sound like they were made from a computer programmed only to get people to dance.

The thing about going into an experience with even a little bit of prejudice is that often we overcompensate against the way we think we are biased. "Intuition," for all that I loathe about it, is actually one of the better songs on 0304. So, yeah, this is a pretty terrible album and "sellout" is a pretty mild word to apply to this auditory mess.

From the first beats that open "Stand," it is hard to argue that 0304, for all of its problems is not the work of Jewel. With fourteen songs - I am liberally calling these tunes "songs," in the case of many of them "chants" might be more appropriate - clocking in at 53:42, 0304 is Jewel's album. Every song was written by Jewel with music co-written by Jewel and either Lester A.. Mendez, Anthony Bell, Guy Chambers or Rick Nowels. They generally all sound alike - dance-pop beats dominating - so her co-writers either are all experimenting the exactly the same way or Jewel had a lot of influence in the sound of each song. Moreover, Jewel takes a co-producer credit, so she clearly had quite a bit of creative control (despite admitting in the liner notes that she allowed "America" to be censored some). Jewel has given up even the pretense of playing any of her music, though. She is not even credited with clapping on "Yes U Can."

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of 0304 is that in the liner notes, Jewel claims that this album represents more of the songs she's wanted to produce for years. That being the case, it seems that her articulate poetry with a surprisingly high level of diction that defined her early albums was simply a facade hiding a twelve year-old girl's internet dumbspeak, as evidenced by titles that cannot even be spelled out in an adult fashion: "Run 2 U," "2 Find U," "Yes U Can," etc.

Normally, I don't relish the citations I make from lyrics because I have to figure out what lyrics say the most about a given album and that often takes some time and care to select. With 0304, it's a virtual shooting gallery for me! There are so many targets to fire at, I'm having trouble narrowing them down. The crux of this album is that the lyrics are predictable, utilize the most inane rhyme schemes and on the one exception where the lines actually have some meaning, they are buried by dance-pop beats and synthesizer noises.

From the first time I heard "Intuition," I knew one of the potential problems with Jewel going over to the Dance Side would be that the lyrics lacked some of her trademark intelligence. It was probably because she started with that first single to make the obvious plays from one line to another, like "In a world of postmodern fad / What's good now is bad" ("Intuition"). Wow, good and bad being set against one another, this is a surprise, what about light and dark? The album is crushed by lyrics that are universally unsurprising, save perhaps that in the especially inane "2 Find U," she refers to her love interest as "Hey u!" Wow, there's some serious intimacy that deserves the devotions of "Do not walk away / Let's choose love, come on / [shudder] What do u say? / Hey, u / Know that I would spend / My whole life all over again / 2 find u" ("2 Find U"). In other words, it is hard to take what little message there is on 0304 seriously because it is phrased using the most standard paradigms and lines.

The only thing even worse than Jewel's spelling on 0304 is the predictability of the lines. "Intuition," at its very best, impressed me for its use of the word "intuition," which does not so much rhyme with . . .well, anything. My hope going into 0304 was that perhaps for all of its dance sound that was rumored to be the big musical shift for Jewel, at least there might be some clever lines that surprised me. From the opening lines of "Walk in a corner shop / See a shoplifting cop / See the old lady with a gun / See the hero try 2 run / Nothing is what is seems, I mean / It's not all dirty, but it's not all clean . . . Mothers weep, children sleep / So much violence ends in silence / It's a shame there's no one 2 blame" ("Stand") the album presents rhymes that look like the words were assembled from some sort of Dr. Seuss Thesaurus (where words are not connected by similar meanings, but rather how they rhyme with one another). By the time the album gets to "Yes U Can," one suspects the listener would be numbed to dumb, but wow, Jewel tops herself with a song that appears to be all about dance-club skanks. And here, the image of Jewel as the quiet, good-girl folk-artist dies a quick and gruesome death. Sadly, it seems that the worst, dumbest lyrics are also the most repeated on 0304 and "Yes U Can" is just inane in a sweaty dance-club way in the way the repetition numbs the listener to the complete stupidity spewing forth from Jewel's mouth.

The problem is that the album is not universally stupid, but Jewel either is allowed to be treated as dumb or she assumes her audience is. When "America," another terribly repetitive song, comes up, it seems that Jewel actually has something to say. She rails with a social conscious with observations like "Everywhere I go, seems like Bush is on TV / We shed blood in the name of liberty . . . We are trying in America / We're spying in America / Getting high in America . . ." ("America") that, despite repeating many of the sentiments and concepts from "Stand," appear to have something to say. It is too bad that the instrumentals completely overpower the lyrics with bass and keyboards. Her message gets lost under the music. It is especially disturbing that she admits in the liner notes that lyrics were changed for fear of litigation, acknowledging that she is being censored. In the vernacular of the clubbers who might appreciate this album: Dude, where's your spine?!

Vocally, Jewel's new "style" is unforgivable. Her natural voice - one of her definitive assets - is produced over to be bland and limited in its range. On "Stand" she sounds almost computerized and when listening to "Becoming," I found myself having flashbacks to the Merril Bainbridge album The Garden! Indeed, only on "Haunted" does Jewel reveal anything remotely like her ability and natural voice and that song is strangely unmemorable among the overproduced tracks that define 0304.

Sadly, the bulk of the album sounds like "Sweet Temptation" where Jewel's voice has been shifted and altered by production elements to make her sound more mechanical, less human and less natural. Her voice is obscured, altered and computer-shifted throughout the album so it seldom sounds like she is there alone. Yes, 0304 might be the Jewel Of Borg Dance Celebration Album.*

As for the music, it's catchy but repetitive and utterly forgettable. It's all about hooks and the melodies are dancable but they mix poorly with the lines and it sounds nothing like anything of substance. Instead, it's pretty much the most inane synth, drum, bass-driven dance-pop one could imagine.

Yeah, even when I suspended my expectations, this album disappointed. It's just terrible. It's terrible in a way that most of us who saw Jewel as a savior from the Blonde Revolution teens (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore) are surprised that she would stoop to. And if this is what she wanted to create all along . . . well, that's just sad.

The best track is "Fragile Heart" based on the lyrics alone, the worst of this abysmal pop-dance album is "Yes U Can," which is pretty much the anthem for dumb clubbing anonymous sex acts.

*(if you get the reference, give yourself a gold star).

For other Jewel albums, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Pieces Of You
Joy: A Holiday Celebration
This Way


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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