Goodbye Alice in Wonderland
304 was the New Coke for Jewel fans. Every artist has, ab ovo, been allowed that one foray into queer lands as a necessary transgression of artistic discovery and expression. 0304 was no exception for the reserved, soft-spoken Alaskan chanteuse turned dirty popstress. Her efforts only resulted in a pyrrhic victory: while those who didn’t show even slight interest in her before now fastened their dumbfounded, unsettled gazes upon her newer, flesh-bare form, they didn’t end up buying the record. 0304 is the only Jewel record that didn’t go platinum.
But the album still went gold, confirming my use of the New Coke analogy: Jewel is more product than musician. Her appearance on the scene and her quick ascent was due to the public’s connection with her, one based more on the honesty of her medium—nothing says “genuine” more than a girl with an acoustic guitar—as well as the poignancy of her lyrics and voice. Furthermore, this public had a specific demographic personality: adolescent girls often unsure of themselves and their station vis-à-vis their peers. Jewel’s songs became their anthems and even the literal companion to Pieces of You—A Night Without Armor—was a success; the forerunner to MySpace poetry. Some of that same group bought 0304 simply because Jewel’s name was on it.
Goodbye Alice in Wonderland is the artist’s return to form through historical distillation. At 30 years of age, the album title is her way of closing the book on her decade in the industry from a precocious ingénue to, well, a homelier version of Christina Aguilera. See, a lot of people thought that New Coke was a failure because it broke with the tried and true, but it was actually quite brilliant: it merely increased the demand for the old product. I am not by a long shot adducing that Jewel somehow thrust 0304 upon her listenership to remind them why they loved her in the first place, but her return on her latest does testify to the resolve of the older brand. Well, at the very least, her attempted return. The older brand itself was never very compelling and the return itself is only topically similar.
Those who grew up on Pieces of You have now grown up, but not grown with the artist, nor do I think Goodbye Alice in Wonderland seeks to mine that particular demographic sliver anymore. While this is a benefit to her longevity as an artist, it doesn’t mean she’s found a better calling. Like Tori Amos on The Beekeeper, we find Jewel mining humdrum AOR for the 30-and-over crowd. Rather than trying to connect on a more visceral level with the listener as she did in the beginning of her career, the songs on display are drowned out by generic backing music. Her own crystalline vocal harmonies that previously (and thankfully) overrode the more hyperbolic or trite lyrics are grossly reduced here, save for slight flourishes during “10,000 Miles Away.” Her life story may be important, but she mistakenly forgets that the way the story is told makes it memorable.
Songs here all share the same emotional resonance and, even if competently played at times (“Satellite,” “Long Slow Slide”), the fact that the effort is more egoistic means passivity on the listener’s part. We find Jewel going through the motions rather than providing us with a noteworthy movement and in the end these songs here are less artistic pronouncements and more the conclusion of a specific product line.
Reviewed by: Ayo Jegede
Reviewed on: 2006-06-01