Thinking about Jewel’s butchered version of “Sweet Home Alabama” in this thread got me wondering what happened to the singer I love so much on Pieces of You.
See, I think Pieces of You, Jewel’s first album, is absolutely beautiful. The songs have a raw energy to them, and are truly imaginative. “Painters” tells a heartbreaking story in a few short minutes, “Little Sister” has the quality of a song improvised in a smoky nightclub, “Foolish Games” is an honest look at a rocky relationship, “Morning Song” is full of a sweet sentiment that my wife and I share often, and the title track “Pieces of You” is a poetic marvel. In fact, I pretty much think all of the songs on this album are worth listening to many time over (and I have).
So, when her second album Spirit came out, I was all over it. I bought it the day it came out and listened to it immediately. I was sure I’d like it. I listened to the whole thing… then again… and again. And I was disappointed. It was flat, full of generic soft songs, only a couple of which (such as “Hands”) had any glimmer of the power of her first album. And that glimmer was faint indeed. In a few short weeks, I was surprised when I decided that trading “Spirit” in for something else would be no problem.
I haven’t even bothered to buy This Way, her third album. The first single from it, “Standing Still,” is an even more bland pop song. The lyrics are dry and the performance flat. I ever watched her perform it live (on Jay Leno, I think) and it sounded like a confused mess. I have since at least listened to This Way in its entirety, and was even less interested in plunking down my hard-earned for it.
With her first album, I thought she really had something special. Something unpolished, sure, but that was part of the charm for me. She sounded raw… vulnerable but tough, world-weary but still hopeful. Her words had a passion, and her songs were simple works of beauty. While her two books have been interesting, her music has gone steadily downhill.
The final nail for me was when I heard her botched version of “Sweet Home Alabama” last night, and I barely even recognized her. It sounded like a familiar voice, but I had to check the credits to find out that it was her. All of that rawness, that power, that unidentifiable quality that made her unique… it seems to be gone. Whether stamped out by the music industry machine, expended in that first creative fire, or simply a result of her growing older and more comfortable, I really don’t see any of it anymore.
Ah well… at least I still have Pieces of You to remember it by. Off to listen to “Painters,” I think.