[12 November 2001]
You Don’t Know Her At All
“Poetry is a passage into those parts of our being where we understand who we have been and where we discover and decide who and what we will be.”
—Jewel Kilcher, from a night without armour: poems
Perhaps you are as tired of her as the rest of the world. For awhile there, it was Jewel everywhere. On stage, being outfitted by Tommy Hilfiger, dating movie stars, and all the while speaking about the degradation of fame and its trappings. Then came the white horse. Why her publicity people never told her what a bad idea that way, we’ll never know. But she survived the white horse and seems to have found a comfortable zone where she has comes to terms with her fame, but instead of heading to swank awards shows and events, she chills out with her rodeo riding’ boyfriend, Ty Murray. How un-Hollywood can you get?
We all know about her past—sleeping in the van (do you hear Chris Farley saying, “Down by the river” too?), growing up in Alaska (Brrr!) and her wonky relationship with her parental units. While it is fascinating, somewhere along the way, the press turned that into “quaint” and it turned around and bit her on what must be a pale white ass. It became rural girl turned pop princess and all of a sudden, her intelligence and quirky nature were scrutinized and held against her. Her previous CD was played to such a saturation point that her uniqueness was now annoying—because it was being heard 10 times a day.
The thing with Jewel is that whatever singles are released, while good, aren’t really what she’s about. They are clearly her most accessible, but not her true work. So, if you think you know Jewel, Jewel from the radio, that is, you don’t. She is far more textured and while sometimes veering off to a world inhabited with the ghosts of Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone, she has a sound all her own. And no, you wouldn’t be able to tell that just from her radio hits. She has been misrepresented.
It is with this album, This Way that Jewel finally comes into her own. With the same guitar and folksy yodeling as heard as early on as Pieces of You‘s “Who Will Save Your Soul”, “Foolish Games” and “You Were Meant for Me”, this album is clearly Ms. Kilcher coming to the table on her own terms. Less folk, more pop (even more so than Spirit) and enough variety to please every member of the family, the messages still as are evident on This Way‘s 14 songs as on the first album. Whether these songs reach the previously visited overplay list remains to be seen. In the meantime, enjoy the newness that is Jewel.
The first single off the album, “Standing Still” has the requisite hooks and is clearly radio friendly. The annoyance factor is high when she gets into the country drawl on words like “headlights”, “twilight” and “dead end”, but the open, clear notes (that only Jewel seems in possession of) of “do you” and “like I” make up for any country lingerings.
In the liner notes, Jewel claims “Jesus Loves You” is one of her favourite tracks. You’ll have to make up your mind on this one. The usual message is abundantly clear, but the production is too much all over. Remember the girl with guitar sound that was so clear on Pieces of You? You’ll be aching for it on this one. But don’t despair—tracks 13 and 14, “Grey Matter” and “Sometimes It Be That Way” are recorded live.
“Everybody Needs Someone Somtime” is good for those achin’ for something a little more boot-scoot boogie than the requisite pop hit. A love song to boyfriend Ty, “Break Me” is slow and, well, that’s it. Unless you’re Ty, of course. It would probably sound great just her and guitar, but that’s old Jewel, dontcha know. A little mix of pop, rock and country, “Do You Want to Play?” is Jewel at her produced best (girl with guitar sound still rules). Not too much, not too little. Just enough. Jewel Does the Rodeo—Nah. She just wrote about it with Ty in “Till We Run Out of Road”. It’s surprisingly good. Who knew rodeos could be such fodder for soon-to-be-hit songs?
Approached like a jazz song, “I Won’t Walk Away” is thick with sexy singing and sad piano and a nice change from the usual Jewel sound. Tell me it doesn’t sound like a Sting song. A nu country song that will convert the rockiest of you, “Love Me, Just Me Alone” is brash and sexy. Funny too. Just like the girl herself. This is gonna be the big breakout song that changes that perception of Jewel forever. “Serve the Ego” is slow, sexy and rock heavy all at once. One of the best songs you’ll hear this year. A whole album of this would rock the pop world to its knees.
It is at this point that Jewel’s new confidence and maturity from her last album must be mentioned. It is audible in every note, in every lyric, in every breath she takes. Whether she manages to sell a lot of this CD doesn’t seem to matter here. It sounds like she just wants to say what she wants how she wants to say it.
Perhaps it’s with the understanding of who she was and who she is and what she wants to be that this strong sense of character, clear vision, astounding voice, and new bag of goodies that she will find happiness and peace. A way to become comfortable with fame and recognition. And maybe sell a couple hundred thousand records along the way.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/jewel-thisway/