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She's finally woken
on 22 January 2006
Welsh singer Jem meshes together a half dozen musical genres in her debut "Finally Woken." Expect pop, electro, maybe a dash of hip-hop here'n'there. The unclassifiable collection sounds messier than it is -- it ends up being sweet and sensuous with Jem's quietly throaty voice, even though it seems to fall through in the middle.
The album starts off strong with the tinkly, hip-hop-flavored "They," the ethereal "Come On Closer," and the sunny title track. But after the hard-edged "24," things start to slip down a bit with the forgettable pop "Missing You," childish "Ride," and pretty but unexciting "Falling For You."
It would be easy to dismiss the album there and then, as "Finally Woke" slips into the area of "instapop" that barely registers as the early songs do. Then Jem takes a steep turn back up with the gentle "Stay Now," and the soaring, sweet acoustic pop "Flying High."
"Finally Woken" has the distinction of being really hard to classify. There's some pop, trip-hop, hip-hop, folk and some little tinges of rock here and there. Its biggest problem is that the middle sags, as if Jem loses her enthusiasm after the first five songs or so, only to rediscover it at the end.
Jem's voice is what makes this album -- her voice is throaty, soft and gentle, and it serves as the centerpiece of the music. She doesn't strike a discordant note or lose her vocal confidence. What is more, her voice is capable of covering up the lyrical deficiencies of some of her songs, like the poppy "Wish I" ("Baby, you're sailing away/Sugar, wish I could go too/But honey you know/I'm happy for you").
The writing itself is fairly standard pop fare, with plenty of love songs that don't have particularly good writing. They're not bad, but most of them aren't that great either. The exception is "24," with its plaintively morbid: "In 24 hours they'll be/laying flowers/on my life, it's over tonight!" And backing it up is a mishmash of electronic beats, acoustic guitar, strings, percussion and perky chimes, that are somehow turned into a pretty, fresh pop sound.
The writing and middle songs are not up to par, but Jem's beautiful voice and crazy-quilt music make this "Just Woken" thoroughly enjoyable debut, in spite of its major flaws. Pretty and fun, this is worth checking out.