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Jem - Down To Earth

Jem, Down To Earth

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

WELSH singer-songwriter and producer Jem is confidently predicting that her sophomore album, Down To Earth, is different “in a good way”.

“As before, I mix up genres as I like listening to lots of different types of music so that’s what comes out,” she continues. “It’s a little darker in parts and then a little lighter too, as is life.”

The diversity is immediately apparent… as is the feeling that Jem hasn’t compromised on her ability. Down To Earth, while not entirely successful, is still a very good listen. Vocally endearing, and busy enough never to sit still for more than two songs, it’s a really nice package that combines pop, soul, gospel, trip hop and even salsa.

Demand for the album and its songs already appears to be high, too. Lead single It’s Amazing featured prominently on the soundtrack to last year’s movie smash Sex & The City, while other songs from the LP have already featured on top-rated US shows such as CSI: Miami, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill and hit new CBS show, The Mentalist.

The gospel-tinged Keep On Walking, meanwhile, was chosen by Starbucks as its pick of the week for December, throughout its US chains.

So what works and what doesn’t? Album opener Down To Earth sets things off nicely… a heartbeat back-beat and some subtle piano chords eventually giving rise to a lush, pop-friendly trip hop effort that’s infused with some nice guitar riffs and a genuinely easygoing vibe.

Crazy, meanwhile, drops a funky backbeat over some snappy banjo licks and maintains the feel-good nature of proceedings, while I Want You To… is cheeky, fun and shot through with a highly danceable Latin vibe. It’s evidence of Jem clearly having fun… and a million miles for her Welsh roots!

The single It’s Amazing is drenched in piano early on, but quickly drops a useful trip-hop beat and despite sounding pointedly like Dido vocally, manages to endear itself overall. The chorus is particularly catchy, nicely layered and the whole song looks destined for a place on any number of US shows or movies – and not just the Sex & The City soundtrack upon which it’s already featured.

Keep On Walking opens with a cool gospel sample, before mixing in some pop elements, and marking another sure-footed change of direction, while Jem enters ballad territory with the sombre You Will Make It. It’s one of the tracks I remain to be convinced of… but it does feature an impassioned, caring set of vocals from Jem herself, as well as a belated African element courtesy of Vusi Mahlasela, which adds an interesting new dimension to the song.

I Always Knew, meanwhile, keeps the tone a little more restrained… as does Got It Good, another piano-soaked effort that really does fly a little too close to average Dido territory for my liking. Coming off the back of three mid-tempo ballads, I feared that the album had perhaps settled into a rut.

But Jem is a little more savvy than that and Aciiid marks a pumped-up, beat-laden return to the more upbeat trip hop style of the earlier songs, and a sassy, attitude-laden set of vocals that channel the style of Pink and/or Nelly Furtado. It’s a good song, delivered in a foreign tongue.

How Would You Like It drops a strong chorus and makes up for the slightly indifferent verses, And So I Pray manages to enchant with its thought-provoking lyricism and easy back-beats (Jem, herself, is at her most lush), while album closer On Top Of The World draws things to a measured, layered close that’s disarmingly simple and utterly beautiful once the chorus kicks in. It’s a real stress-reliever of a track.

So, in spite of some of its failings, Jem has delivered another strong collection of songs that only look set to enhance and build upon the deserved success of her debut album.

Download picks: Down To Earth, I Want You To…, It’s Amazing, Aciiid, And So I Pray, On Top Of The World

Track listing:

  1. Down To Earth
  2. Crazy
  3. I Want You To…
  4. It’s Amazing
  5. Keep On Walking
  6. You Will Make It-With Vusi Mahlasela
  7. I Always Knew
  8. Got It Good
  9. Aciiid!
  10. How Would You Like It
  11. And So I Pray
  12. On Top Of The World