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New Jewel album lacking in 'Spirit'

Web posted on:
Monday, November 23, 1998 12:50:43 PM EST

From Reviewer Wendy Brandes

(CNN) -- Sixteen years ago, Prince (and he was known as Prince then) sang, "Tonight we're gonna party like its 1999." Now that 1999 is almost here, it looks like His Ex-Majesty has a lock on fin de siecle celebration royalties, because the turn of the century has other singers worried about their salvation.

Unlike Madonna and Alanis Morissette, Jewel isn't a Janie-come-lately to the quest-for-grace sweepstakes. The Alaskan yodeler's biggest hit from her 1995 debut album, "Pieces of You," was "Who Will Save Your Soul," in which she shook her head over the modern age: "Another day, another dollar, another war, another tower/Went up where the homeless had their home."

The album balanced the witty, earthy romance of "Morning Song" and "You Were Meant for Me" with pleas for goodwill towards men and women. "We are everyday angels," Jewel sang on "I'm Sensitive." "Be careful with me 'cause I'd like to stay that way."

A more ethereal 'Spirit'

Jewel's second album, "Spirit," is, as its title signals, less "everyday," more ethereal than both "Pieces of You" and "A Night Without Armor," a collection of poetry the singer published earlier this year. "Spirit" is also less powerful than those efforts: It offers godliness without grit.

In the funky, accusatory "Who Will Save Your Soul" on the first album, Jewel dropped to a growl to ask, "Who will save your soul after the lies that you told, boy." Songs in the new collection such as "Hands" and "Kiss The Flame" are, by contrast, pleasant folky confections that don't distinguish themselves musically or lyrically.

Sound Clips

[240k MPEG-3] or [330k WAV]

"Down So Long"
[240k MPEG-3] or [330k WAV]

"Innocence Maintained"
[220k MPEG-3] or [300k WAV]

"Enter From the East"
[210k MPEG-3] or [290k WAV]

On "Hands," in particular, Jewel resorts to cooing positive-thinking generalities: "If I could tell the world just one thing/It would be that we're all OK."

On "Innocence Maintained," a piece of Amy Grant-style pop, she adopts a Sunday-school sing-song to preach: "We've made houses for hatred/It's time we made a place/Where people's souls may be seen and made safe." The first album's emotional, mocking "Ugly girl, ugly girl, do you hate her/'Cause she's pieces of you?" made the same point without becoming banal.

One of the new breed of crossover country artists would find a fine love-song candidate in "Jupiter" ("You make me so crazy, baby/Could swallow the moon"). And if you tune out the lyrics of "Fat Boy" ("Fat boy goes to the pool/Sees his reflection, doesn't know what to do") and focus on the music, you have a ballad ripe for presentation by a skinny diva like Celine Dion.

'I got a plastic Jesus'

However, Jewel's sophomore slump doesn't affect every track. The percussion throbs like a heartbeat in the groovy "Down So Long" as Jewel's voice alternately soars and drops to a throaty purr. "I got a plastic Jesus, a cordless telephone for every corner of my room/Got everybody but you telling me what to do," she sings. "But I've been down so long/Ooh, it can't be longer still."

"Enter From The East" is an aching tribute to passion on which Jewel pushes to a touchingly fragile high note. "Do You" takes on romance, too, but with jaded wit: "The man is a marvel, but it's a shame about his brains/But that's OK/You say 'He's got straight teeth and it's good sex.'"

The singer's more spiritual side shows to greatest advantage in the soulful "Life Uncommon": "We are tired, we are weary, but we aren't worn out/Set down your chains, until only faith remains." It's as if Jewel suddenly remembered what any gospel singer would tell you: You don't have to lose your passion to praise a higher power.

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