This album is pretty infamous among critics in part because the songs that would become hits Jewel a year and a half later had to be rerecorded before they became hits – according to more than one critic because they sound so bad here. I don’t really understand what they are talking about, to me the rerecorded versions sound much more commercial, not necessarily better. What I do agree with the critics about are the lyrics, which do indeed sound like they were written by a teenager. (Most of them, if not all of them, were.)
But unlike the best lyrics by teenagers – say, Fiona Apple’s – these are pretty trite. (As you might expect.) And if you’re coming to this album for the lyrics, you’re going to be pretty disappointed. (Unless you’ve never listened to folk music or singer-songwriters in your life, like ever.) the lyrics are the pseudo-phislophical musings of a teenager, about life, about love, about hypocrisy, and other things. If you listen hard, they’re not good.
But the thing is: she makes these lyrics sound good and feel powerful. And she does that because she is a pretty great and relatively unique singer. Apparently there is yodeling in her background and she uses it to great effect. Sure, she occasionally sounds too much like Tori Amos or a way less talented guitar player impersonating Ani DiFranco but, most of the time, her command of her voice and her sheer presence sell a lot of these trite observations. Some of the recordings are live and I can imagine seeing her in person, without knowing anything about her, and being kind of blown away by her performance. (And thinking her songs were actually good as a result.)
It also helps that she has a trong sense of melody. Whatever you think of her lyrical cliches, there are some catchy songs here. Sure, it helps that the singles were overplayed to death, but these original versions actually strike me as more appealing than the poppier hits (and I assume that’s just me). A number of the deep cuts have nearly as strong melodies.
The record is all over the place from an arrangement standpoint and I assume the re-released version is only more so, given that two of the songs were rerecorded to take advantage of her knack for melody. Some of these songs are just her live, other songs are full-band performances. It’s hard to understand why Keith didn’t pick one type of performance – I would have opted for an entire album of live performances, because that’s her strength – and it’s a bit of a strange experience to suddenly hear applause here and there.
But I will say this: for an album full of extremely cliched lyrics which, in the mouths of most people would annoy the fuck out of me, she sure sells them. I have a hell of a lot more respect for her voice than I used to.