Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Pop Girls: Jem's "Finally Woken"

"Finally Woken"


I know that you’re all quite keen on your Duffy records, but in no way does the Demi-Dusty match up to the pop craftsmanship of fellow Welshwoman Jemma Griffiths, who goes by the name of Jem. On her first album Finally Woken she not only co-writes all the songs but produces the record too. Jem’s music is primarily laid back white girl funk, with a fizzy pop sensibility. And I’m talking about proper pop here, melt-the-throat stuff which puts a kick in your step. Jem doesn’t attempt to do anything apart from present an album which is entertaining and listenable from start to finish, and not enough performers have the time for that sort of work anymore. Finally Woken is nothing new and doesn’t put a much-needed kick-start into the pop industry, but there isn’t a single dud song – if you like this kind of thing.

I’m not the only person in the World who will willingly admit to loving pop music, but those who listen to musical fluff are a dying breed. As time goes on, more and more of the kiddies are seduced over by the bland and soulless machine of America, churning out musicians like Usher and Ashanti. Not only that, but they push other musicians like Pink to change her style and become a fascinating hypocrite, ruining her musical career but furthering her financial one. It’s polluted pop as a concept, and only a few acts pull ahead and consistently release great pop songs – I’d state Girls Aloud, The Sugababes, Candie Payne and Nerina Pallot as examples of this. But who over the age of fifteen would want to say that these acts are among their favourites? After all, pop music has nothing worthwhile to say. Jem isn’t going to change your mind on this – it’s the same old as ever before – yet you’d be hard-pressed to say she doesn’t do it with considerable style.

Certain songs stand out a lot more than others, and as you’d expect they all turned out to be the eventual singles released from the album. The opening ‘They’ sets a tone which stands out from everything else through use of old samples and new samples laid against each other as the song begins, which creates the tune that a drumbeat rolls against. As the chorus comes along, strings and synths rise into the rhythm alongside these samples, creating a soaring, flyaway feel. The trouble with pop is that quite often the songs grow dated, even a few months after they are first released. Listen to anything Holly Valance released, for example, and see how it stands up now. Strange, eh? Jew’s music doesn’t seem to date in this way, and the genuine standout songs feel fresh even for now (granted, it’s only five years since the album was released, but in music terms that’s ages). ‘They’, ‘Just A Ride’ and ‘Come On Closer’ in particular feel much more freewheeling than anything Rihanna has ever done. Reheated trash, every single song that girl released in 2008. But, back to Jem.

The slow songs are where the album triumphs, due to the downright refusal for things to get saccharine and lazy. Everything is played in such a laid-back style, that the ballads don’t stick out or feel jarring, and the schoolgirl whimsy of the lyrics (Jem is a decent, occasionally inspired songwriter, but isn’t looking to trouble Aimee Mann anytime soon) is pretty without being sickly. A lot of this is due to Jem’s vocals, which are remarkably consistent in all the songs. There are no high notes or scales – which is a relief, I hate it when singers think that going up and down the scales is going to impress people – because everything is delivered in the same husky style. It’s a bit of a shame not to see her stretch her vocals, but think of her style as being a little like Dido via Imogen Heap. The words are sung instead of spoken, but the same sort of delicate delivery is given to each song in turn, with no deviations. It’s calming and nice, especially once you wake up after seven double vodkas and you’ve run out of bacon.

Getting back to the songs, which I’ve wholeheartedly failed to do so far, ‘Wish I’ is a dreamy Hawaiian chant whilst ‘24’ is an increasingly sunny yet claustrophobic track about how we’re all going to eventually die. The chorus starts off with “in 24 hours/they’ll be laying flowers” and gradually winds down to “in just one hour”. It’s all very gentle though, frothy but lovely. I’m getting myself into a much better mood just through listening right now while I review. Also I borrowed some bacon from someone, so that’s a bonus. ‘Come On Closer’ is a surprisingly risqué track about sex – no rude words, but certainly some full-colour description going on, which is added to by an electric guitar part rushed in over the top which gives a great feeling of emphasis to the music, otherwise a looped keyboard riff. And it does absolutely nothing to stop my full-on crush for Ms Griffiths, neither. It’s a jangly piece of disposable pop. The best song on the album, ‘Just A Ride’, is similar, but with a faster pace which drags you along with it. Again, a very laid back, white-girl funk sound (what is white-girl funk? Can’t you work it out for yourself? Think of it as Elvis Costello’s upbeat stuff, if it were sung by a woman).

There’s not much to say. It’s a pop album! However where any other pop album would probably be half filled with covers and ballads, Finally Woken can proudly stand as a record without any annoying defects. The lyrics and the vocals are great, the music is aces, and the whole package is a wonderful playlist. Listen to it when you’re bored, listen when you’re downbeat, listen if you’re happy. It’s an album for all-ages, and I really like it. Of course, I can only give it a three-star rating because it’s not an adventurous album by any means, and doesn’t push enough to go into the four-star region. But as far as three-star albums go, there aren’t many better.

Inspirational musical fluff is my favourite form of music!

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