Album Reviews

Jem – Down To Earth

(ATO) UK release date: 2 February 2009

If you’ve only heard of Jem, like so many others, from her ubiquitous presence on every soundtrack ever, you’d be forgiven for a slight double-take when scanning the track listing on Down to Earth – a song called Aciid! On a Jem album? Surely not…

Yet in her ongoing quest for the perfect genre, unfortunately, you can believe your eyes. But one can’t help but wonder if this might be wise move for the Welsh songstress. After all, many a mediocre singer has flourished providing the vocals for handbag house tracks, where electronic effects negate the ability to, well – sing. Don’t get us wrong. Jem has a nice voice. But that’s it. It’s nice. In the same way that Dido‘s is nice.

The problem is that she’s so blah – the album on the whole suffers with a profound lack of direction and feeling, and feeling is what Jem so desperately needs if she wants to carry off the weak sappy lyrics she continually spouts. Along with a new producer to replace the four responsible for making this such a disjointed and disappointing affair.

The first few tracks seem to be comprised entirely of a cheap catalogue of dated synth sounds that make them sound as though they might have been consigned to a reject pile somewhere back in 1997. We can blame Crazy on hip-hop producer Jeff Bass – a feeble attempt at a girl-power anthem if ever there was one, flanked by what can only be described as elevator-funk and fit only to become the default song in a new Samsung model.

I Want You To is a tacky Latin groove that sounds like something one might hear upon entering Chiquitos, and should be so much better than this given the involvement of writer-producer Lester Mendez – most famous for his work with Santana. The aforementioned Aciid! is a terrible (and thankfully, a one-off) attempt at acid house, that is (bizarrely) sung partially in Japanese in what can only be described as a very bad rip off of Cibo Matto.

It’s Amazing finds her back on her feet with a slower number that suits her better, but unfortunately, its title is not as prophetic as one might hope. “God give me strength,” she asks on Keep On Walking, a wise prayer which is answered in the form of a Gospel choir, who arrive in the second chorus to lift this song out of the ordinary and into easily the strongest track on the album. You Will Make It is a heartfelt lament for a friend in pain, which starts beautifully, but is pushed a little too far by a voice-over of Mary Frye‘s poem Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep.

If you ignore the hit-and-miss lyrics of the next track, (“Becoming a bitch is not what I got into music for”) I Always Knew is a refreshingly decent offering,in which she returns to the made-for-a-soundtrack style that suits her so well, and – lo and behold – has already found its way into the second episode of TV’s hottest new show 90210.

Got It Good, How Would You Like It and the final two tracks follow suit, and coupled with much-improved production compared with the first half of the album, these make for truly wonderful pop songs – so much so that one desperately wishes she had played to her strengths from the start, rather than desperately trying to tick off every genre on the way to make what, on the whole, is a disappointingly average record.

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Jem – Down To Earth