Introducing Joss Stone may seem a weird title for the singer’s third album, but not according to Ms Stone herself. See, she wasn’t much of a fan of her first two albums, and Introducing… promises, rather portentously, that “this is who I am as an artist”.
So, obviously, you’d expect a massive U-turn from 2004’s Mind Body And Soul, an album full of catchy RnB/pop tunes, wouldn’t you? An album of ambient, electronica style grooves perhaps? Maybe some Kooks-style breezy indie pop? Or maybe a full album of brutal death metal?
No, it turns out that Joss’ much vaunted new direction is, um, rather similar to her last album, only this time the majority of the tracks here have been written by Ms Stone herself and a wide range of collaborators. The sound is a bit more US-centric than its predecessor, but those expecting the radical departure apparently promised by the album’s publicity could well be left scratching their head.
It all gets off to a rather incongruous start with a bizarre spoken-word introduction by none other than Vinnie Jones, telling us how change is a good thing and even “a metaphor that reflects the way things ought to be”. Before we can ponder the irony on being lectured on change by a man who’s gone from being known for being a thuggish footballer to a thuggish film star (and what a variety of roles he plays…), we’re straight into the Motown-esque groove of Girl They Won’t Believe It.
Stone’s major new collaborator, Rapheal Saadiq, formerly of Tony! Toni! Toné!, is on production duties, and does a decent job of mixing modern beats with some retro styles, as on the excellent Put Your Hands On Me or the shuffling rhythms of Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now. Yet his major achievement seems to have been to have whitewashed all traces of Stone’s personality, turning her into yet another identikit RnB diva in the mould of Mariah Carey or Alicia Keys.
There’s whole chunks of the album that just float by, consisting of anonymous soul/funk, just about dragged up to another level by Stone’s still wonderful voice. Music, the supposed centrepiece of the album, is a ridiculously dreary meander which appears to switch into a completely different song when Lauryn Hill contributes a rather monotone guest rap.
Then there’s the lyrics – this is the first album that Stone has made a major songwriting contribution to, and the fairest thing you can say is that she sounds like the teenager she still is. Most songs seem to be about how much Joss loves her boyfriend (Put Your Hands On Me), how much Joss’ boyfriend hurt her when they broke up (What Were We Thinking), and more songs about how much Joss loves her boyfriend (Proper Nice).
In between these tales of love both lost and found lie lines about how hard it is being a singing superstar (“they tried to shoot me down” bemoans Girl You Won’t Believe It, while Arms Of My Baby tells us that “living on the road is so damn tough”) and cliches such as “catch me, I’m falling”, “I can’t live without your loving” or “I don’t need no other man”. It all reaches a nadir during Baby Baby Baby which is as unimaginative as its title suggests.
Admittedly, it’s all set to some upbeat pop/soul that only the churlish would claim could fail to stop the foot from tapping. But it’s all so ordinary and bland – it’s hard to believe that this is the same girl who completely turned a White Stripes song on its head on her first album.
Perhaps Stone is unfortunate in releasing this album so close to Amy Winehouse‘s Back To Black – a genuinely great album that much more effectively mixes a retro sound with a stunning vocal. In buying in so emphatically into a US pop/soul template, Stone has effectively erased what made her so intriguing in the first place. It’s a shame, as she does have talent, but if you really need another lightweight pop/soul album, there are much better albums to buy than this one.