he eventual fallout imbedded in the search for the newest trends in popular music is a cruel mistress. Critics look shamefaced at their words months later, music buyers look at their music collections and wonder why they own thirty emo CDs, and perhaps most depressing of all is the artist that jumps towards a particular genre in the hopes that they might get there first- to lead a new revolution in popular music. With 0304 Jewel Kilcher has unabashedly embraced teen pop in an attempt to evoke the same sorts of sounds that were popular during the last great war of our times: big band and Cole Porter. Or so she claims.
Despite Kilcher’s obvious historical inaccuracies- there were wars between World War II and Desert Storm II, you see, and the popular music during Vietnam wasn’t hedonistic Neil Young dance-punk (we had to wait for Trans for that- the sentiment is a welcome one. A few years after the teen pop craze of Britney and friends, it’s obvious that Jewel isn’t jumping on the boat halfway through the voyage. Unfortunately for her, 0304 rarely works towards pushing the boat out to sea again.
You wouldn’t be able to tell from the opener, “Stand,” however. The song works much in the same vein as the Neptunes produced “Beautiful” with an icier sheen. It is a strong first song, lyrically placing strength in the listener and Jewel who will presumably making a stand together against the strangeness of the modern world. And while the lyrics are vaguely suspect, they can be ignored in favor of the driving beat.
It’s on the Mirwais influenced “Run 2 U” that the album begins to show its true colors. Mixing a guitar and a lazy house beat, the songwriting is simply not on par with the previous effort. Perhaps ironically, though, the lyrics work much better here. Posited as a love story, Kilcher lets slip that she needs her lover for more than love: “I need you for dark reasons, dear/for greed and lust and seed and fear.”
Placing these within the context of the sunny backing, Jewel sneaks in one of those glorious moments in pop music, one in which you can’t help to sing along even though you’re not sure that you believe or even want to believe what you’re singing. She ends casually with comforting words, smoothing over the rough edges: “la, la, la, close your eyes/la, la, la, it’s a lullaby.”
“Intuition” follows in all its electro swank glory. One of the better singles of the year, so far, Jewel’s vamps up the scale demand to be imitated whether lovingly or hatefully. Either way, you’re singing along, which is exactly the point.
It is after this strong three song opening salvo that the album should run into a roadblock. Oddly enough, it doesn’t. “U Can Leave the Lights On” mirrors Nelly Furtado almost to an eerie degree in the title and in the chorus. And, once again, the lyrics reflect a sunny disposition that is slightly dark underneath: “just look at me sacredly, religiously, hungrily.” This is not the type of love that is healthy, but it is the type of love that makes for great pop songs.
The gas does run out after this, however, for a short time. Instead of continuing along with catchy dance tracks, the album slows down into alt-rock territory, mixing some of her previous country inflected sounds into the mix with the more modern production added that is present throughout.
And while she does not return to the form of “Intuition” on “Haunted,” the diversion from the adult contemporary sheen that dominated the previous few tracks is satisfyingly jarring. The song starts with Jewel’s whispers. It slowly builds into the first verse towards a stirring climax in which her voice nearly breaks underneath the weight of her screams. She actually, truly, sounds a bit like PJ Harvey here and, consequently, is one of the most powerful moments on the record.
Sadly, the mood is quickly broken by the almost goofy guitar sound achieved in the opening moments of “Sweet Temptation.” While the song is one of the stronger second-tier songs on the album, somehow matching it up immediately after the emotional climax of the record just sounds wrong.
But overall as much as the listener should be prepared to hate this record and its pretensions towards anticipating pop trends, it isn’t necessarily a failure. Jewel claims that this album is her collection of dance songs. When taking into account that this isn’t the ass-shaking inducing group of songs that were promised in interviews, a certain appreciation can be garnered. Besides, when do we ever expect truth in advertising, anyway?