51 Shades of Geek

Jewel – 0304

Jewel - 0304Y’know, when she started out in the mid-1990s, I used to defend Jewel against the popular “Hippie Spice” insult that was often hurled her way, as I really liked that first album of hers, and even liked the second. A couple of years ago, I was a bit more ambivalent about her third album. And now?

Well…uh…I still really like her first album. 0304, on the other hand, spins her off in a completely different direction into a different style of music, and I’m not really sure it suits her …but hey, it’s her career. 0304 opens with “Stand”, sort of a middle-ground between her old, faux-folky lyrical style and her new musical style, as if this is supposed to ease us into the transition. (Hint: it does not.) What follows is basically an album of club rhythms over which Jewel sings some decidedly light-headed lyrics (i.e. “you plus me equals l-o-v-e”), abandoning her previous style of thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics (even if they weren’t necessarily comprehensible in a literal sense). Now she’s singing about a club where the music’s pumpin’ and the bodies are jumpin’…oooookay.

Not all of the songs grate on my nerves – “Run 2 U” reminded me rather pleasantly of the Moody Blues’ drum-machine-driven “English Summer” – but what really bugs me with 0304 is not the change in style, but the radical change in personality. According to all of the press material surrounding this album, Jewel came to her club music epiphany of her own free will, but something about 0304 fairly reeks of corporate interference. “Jewel wants to do another album? Well, that’s great, but can she go from mild acoustic/electric folk-rock to some sexy club music instead? That’d be great. And let’s get to sing through the exact same effects filter as Britney Spears, I love that sound! Great. Let’s do lunch sometime.” (And no, I’m not kidding about the filtered vocals – note to producer: if I wanted to listen to Britney Spears, I’d listen to bleedin’ Britney Spears.)

2 out of 4I have no problem with artists reinventing themselves – hell, Madonna started working with William Orbit and came up with my favorite stuff from her in years – but something’s rotten in the state of Denmark here. I really hope Jewel’s “club music epiphany” is short-lived. Not that I don’t like that style of music, but there are people out there doing it so much better than she is.

Order this CD

  1. Stand (3:15)
  2. Run 2 U (3:39)
  3. Intuition (3:54)
  4. Leave The Lights On (3:23)
  5. 2 Find U (3:16)
  6. Fragile Heart (3:33)
  7. Doin’ Fine (3:14)
  8. 2 Become 1 (4:40)
  9. Haunted (4:53)
  10. Sweet Temptation (4:09)
  11. Yes U Can (4:01)
  12. U & Me = LOVE (3:37)
  13. America (3:43)
  14. Becoming (4:22)

Released by: Atlantic
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 53:39

Listen To What The Man Said

Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney“What’s this?” I asked. “A Paul McCartney tribute album benefitting cancer charities and featuring the Finn Brothers? Sign me up!”

Actually, this nice little selection, proceeds from which go toward the fight against breast cancer, has many good covers of Macca’s post-Beatles best. Owsley kicks things off with a picture-perfect reading of “Band On The Run” which doesn’t stray very far from the original Wings recording. SR-71 turns “My Brave Face” – one of my favorite latter-day McCartney solo tunes simply by virtue of the fact that it isn’t “Hope & Deliverance” – into a gleeful hard-rock thrash. Semisonic also faithfully replicates “Jet”, rocking it out a bit but not so much that it’s unrecognizable. The Virgos give a similar treatment to “Maybe I’m Amazed”, while the Merrymakers punch up “No More Lonely Nights” (another personal favorite) a bit. Some of the other renditions fly under the radar a bit – Matthew Sweet’s “Every Night” for one.

And as for Tim and Neil Finn? It pains me to say it, but their cover of “Too Many People” is a mess – it sounds like an unrehearsed one-take-and-that’s-it wonder, without much effort. The arrangement isn’t organized, the sound quality isn’t even up to the standards of the brothers’ admittedly (and intentionally) lo-fi Finn album, and the vocals just smack of a cover band that’s been asked to play something they’d mostly forgotten. Sad to say, the Finn Brothers, who drew my attention to this collection, turned out to be its biggest disappointment. I was stunned. I was also looking forward to the They 3 out of 4Might Be Giants cover of “Ram On”, but it wasn’t so much disappointing as just inscrutably cryptic in its new arrangement.

Overall, a nice set – and one that truly turned my expectations on ear by introducing me to some excellent new artists while the known quantities gave me a wee bit of a let-down.

Order this CD

  1. Band On The Run – Owsley (5:14)
  2. My Brave Face – SR-71 (3:00)
  3. Junk – Kevin Hearn, Steven Page and Stephen Duffy (2:56)
  4. Jet – Semisonic (4:15)
  5. No More Lonely Nights – The Merrymakers (4:11)
  6. Let Me Roll It – Robyn Hitchcock (4:21)
  7. Too Many People – Finn Brothers (3:43)
  8. Dear Friend – The Minus 5 (4:45)
  9. Every Night – Matthew Sweet (2:56)
  10. Waterfalls – Sloan (4:21)
  11. Man We Was Lonely – World Party (2:59)
  12. Coming Up – John Faye Power Trip (3:43)
  13. Maybe I’m Amazed – Virgos (4:14)
  14. Love In Song – The Judybats (4:04)
  15. Warm And Beautiful – Linus of Hollywood (3:08)
  16. Ram On – They Might Be Giants (2:40)

Released by: Oglio
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 60:30

Jars Of Clay – The Eleventh Hour

Jars Of Clay - The Eleventh HourStill my favorite Christian rock act, Jars Of Clay’s fourth album sees them returning not only to the studio, but to the producer’s chair. Though I liked the stylistic stretches that it represented, not everyone dug If I Left The Zoo, with its almost Jellyfish-like experimentation with everything from bluegrass banjos to hard rock. That spirit of not sticking to the program, fortunately, survives through The Eleventh Hour with the hard-rocking “Revolution” (a smart song whose message is that if you really want to be a rebel, try being a decent person instead of trying to be a badass), and flirting with a latter-day R.E.M.-ish sound on “Silence”. The more traditional Jars Of Clay sound is still present too, with “Fly” and an alternate rock hit waiting to be discovered, “I Need You”. The band still excels at love songs which are neither sappy nor overly concerned with physical relations; they could be sung to the object of your affections as easily as they could be sung to Jesus – and that’s the beauty of it, because the latter is who the songs are 4 out of 4directed toward, but these songs could hit mainstream secular radio without sounding like Christian music.

Though the entire album is excellent, the cluster of “Fly”, “I Need You” and “Silence” is one of the better three-song runs I’ve heard on anything I’ve listened to recently. But the entire CD is highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Disappear (3:56)
  2. Something Beautiful (3:46)
  3. Revolution (3:42)
  4. Fly (3:20)
  5. I Need You (3:40)
  6. Silence (5:17)
  7. Scarlet (3:32)
  8. Whatever She Wants (3:43)
  9. The Eleventh Hour (4:27)
  10. These Ordinary Days (3:04)
  11. The Edge Of Water (3:54)

Released by: Silvertone
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 42:21