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Spirit

Jewel

Release Date: 11.17.98
Record label: WEA/Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop

70 Music-Critic Score
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We're All OK
by: mark feldman


Our favorite Alaskan log-cabin-bred, van-dwelling neo-hippie is back! Like most overexposed pop stars, so much has been made of Jewel Kilcher’s background and image that one almost forgets about what really matters - the music. Jewel in particular is a victim of such false publicity, since until now the only music of hers we were able to hear was her debut album Pieces of You, which, in spite of the fact that it was still spewing forth hit singles last year, was written and released in 1994, when she was only 19 years old. She has all but repudiated this album, which does contain many worthwhile songs, but is very uneven and often downright na´ve.


Not so Spirit. Though the forced cuteness of Pieces of You still turns up occasionally (the “boop-boop-be-do-yeah” at the beginning of “Down So Long” is gag-inducing), Jewel has matured considerably, and the lack of overproduction is a pleasant surprise. Even the lead-off single, “Hands,” is quite listenable - the “in the end, only kindness matters” bridge turns the stomach a tad, but the song features a stately Tori Amos-esque piano and an irresistible melody. The space-age-like “Jupiter” is another terrific example of Jewel’s newfound ability to extend her repertoire into slightly slicker pop without losing sight of her acoustic roots. “Kiss the Flame” is also excellent, featuring her most complex and honest lyrics to date. “I want a brave love, one that makes me weak in the knees,” she sings, “I’m tired of all these pilgrims, these puritans, these thieves.” And you believe her.


Later on in the album, the tempo slows down, but doesn’t drag even half as much as it did on her first album, because the styles are so varied. She waxes Rickie Lee Jones on “Fat Boy,” a true story of a neighbor from her childhood who was teased about his weight and eventually committed suicide. “Barcelona” draws its roots from ‘70s singer/songwriter ballads, “Life Uncommon” is more gospel-like, “Do You” is kind of countryish, and “Enter from the East” is virtually a whisper. There’s also an obligatory hidden track at the end of the CD, a cute a cappella number most likely called “Little Bird.”


But what Jewel needs to be considered a true musical force is a lyrical vision of her own. Too often, when a song of hers is on the verge of brilliance, it stops short. “Fat Boy” evolves into a meaningless cry of “oh, fragile flame” (in fact, she uses the word “fragile” way too much on this disc in general). “Jupiter” has to resort to a refrain of “oh-oh, swallow the moon.” “Hands” concludes with the repetition of “We are God’s hands / God’s eyes.” Even when her songs resolve, as “Life Uncommon” and “Do You” do, it’s usually with a message we’ve heard before. Jewel does what she does extremely well, but as of now she is a first-class follower rather than a leader. Still, if her third album turns out to be as much an improvement over “Spirit” as “Spirit” is over Pieces of You, we’re in for a treat.