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Volume 4, Issue 1                                    University of Houston

Jewel abandons naïve lyrics for a more mature sound on 'This Way'


This Way
***1/2 (out of five stars)

Atlantic Records

By Ellen Simonson
Breaking News Staff

Jewel Kilcher's most popular songs can be divided into two main themes. There are the "Why-don't-you-love me?" songs, such as "You Were Meant for Me" from 1995's Pieces of You, and there are "Believe-in-yourself" songs, such as "Deep Water," from 1998's Spirit.

But those are some of her worst songs. Lyrics like "In the end, only kindness matters" and "Oooh, fragile flame" are too clichéd to be redeemed even by Jewel's lovely voice and doubtless sincerity. In her effort to restore compassion and a little bit of naivete to the world, Jewel often comes across sounding merely trite.

But she hasn't always been that way. When she was a virtually unknown singer from Alaska living in a van and playing gigs at coffeehouses, Jewel was writing songs like "Race Car Driver," an infectious, insightful folk song with lyrics like "I can see that you're not impressed/ By the way that you are fully dressed."

In short, Jewel's good intentions got in her way on her first two releases. But this year's This Way finds her grown up a bit, tempering her idealism with the socially conscious humor that characterized her earlier work.

Jewel's new album, This Way, finds the Alaskan hottie mixing tried and true love songs with more experimental tracks.

Ellen Von Unwerth/Atlantic Records

There are still love songs, and true to form, they are written without a trace of bitterness. "I Won't Walk Away" is a finely crafted piece of pop with an earnest chorus: "Wrong or right/ Be mine tonight/ Harsh world be damned/ We'll make a stand." Unlike Jewel's earlier songs with similar lyrics, "Walk Away" sounds like it's being sung by an adult -- somebody with the knowledge that things don't always go right. That and a more intricate arrangement make the song appealing rather than saccharine.

"Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone" is notable for a number of reasons, the first being Jewel's extremely uncharacteristic scream near the end. "I tried to be unlovable," she sings before hollering, "Why couldn't you do the same?"

The song is more country than any on the album (which was produced in Nashville), with a dirty, almost bluesy guitar dueling with Jewel's stronger-than-ever voice. Its lyrics demonstrate her folk roots with an almost Bob Dylan-like feel: "Your mother was a wolf bite/ Your daddy was a cigarette/ Your brother was a rosebud/ Crossbred with a car wreck/ Your sister was a stockbroker/ But you ain't nothing but a turtleneck."

It's on bona fide protest songs like "The New Wild West" and "Jesus Loves You," though, that Jewel really finds her voice. "The New Wild West" is a call to arms -- unusual for an artist like Jewel, who has concentrated mainly on making people feel good. "We'll be an army of thieves, of self-freed slaves, of mild-mannered maids/ We'll fight with whispers and blades," she sings. "Get ready, a new day is dawning."

"Do You Want to Play?" and "Serve the Ego" also show just how far Jewel has come from her first singles. "Serve the Ego" has a rock riff and a pop chorus, but the vocals would be at home on Joni Mitchell's Blue -- sharp and articulate, with lyrics like "Two ships sailing on a neon sea/ Eat the flesh, spit out the seeds/ Feathered hair and lame heels/ What turns me on is so surreal." It's quite a contrast with the girl who once sang, "I put on my p.j.'s and hop into bed/ I'm half alive, but I feel mostly dead."

"Do You Want to Play?" lets Jewel play with lyrics that move from insightful ("Are you only half alive or have you always been this inarticulate?") to experimental ("Underneath the disco neon daylight chandelier disco deity of the chivalry"). The song's sound is light and infectious.

This Way is a new direction for Jewel. Older and more confident now, she's able to compliment her idealism and sincerity with a wit and insight that was hidden in her first two albums. The album contains enough old-school Jewel to please fans of her previous releases, but it's bound to be a revelation to those who found her cloying before. This Way has its moments of sweetness and beauty, but thankfully, it's far from naïve.

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