Album of the Week: Jewel's 0304

To conclude my mini-retrospective on Jewel's music, I wanted to revisit her 2003 album, the dance-oriented 0304.  Of course, Jewel broke into the mainstream with folk-pop on Pieces of You (1995) and Spirit (1998), but she was not confined by those sounds. Her best record, 2001's This Way, plays with country, southern rock, and soft rock, as well as scored a number one club hit with "Serve the Ego"--the track that likely paved the way for 0304's success. And 0304 was a hit. Its lead single, "Intuition," made it to the top 20, and the album itself marked Jewel's highest debut, arriving at number two on the Billboard 200, achieving gold status, and selling  over 700,000 copies by 2010. Perhaps most surprising, the album is a sophisticated and enjoyable piece of music.

Each track on the record exhibits sharp pop craft, but the best songs are socially conscious and run head-on into club music, using dance conventions to create fun music that is also critical of destructive culture. "Intuition" is a chewy, tasty take-down of commercialization, but some of the lesser-known tracks rival its brilliance, like the opener and second single, "Stand"--a club hit that is also a protest anthem about standing up for the poor. The song has a chunky beat and angelic chorus that draws you into its warm arms.  "Yes U Can" and "U and Me = Love" cast a skeptical eye on club-culture while having a great sense of humor and fun,  especially with the video-game sounds on the former and the chanted verses on the latter. "America" is the heaviest track of this ilk, and while it agonizes over where the US is headed, its power-pop chorus makes it an anthem for change--something Jewel hopes for when she sings, "Take the bad with the good. I wanna change it but I wouldn't leave if I could."

The album also has love songs--all sturdy in their construction--that may remind listeners of Jewel's past recordings. Tunes like "Run 2 U," "2 Find U," "Fragile Heart," and "Doin' Fine" feature the singer's acoustic guitar, but they are dressed in beats that give them more urgency than some of her other works. One of the best love tunes is "2 Become 1," which has a soft rock backbone that would have worked on This Way but also sounds at home here because of its heavier percussion. (Jewel must also have an affinity for the track because she rerecorded it for her country album, Perfectly Clear, five years later.)

Amidst these stylistic strains, there are two oddities. The first, "Haunted," takes the perspective of a stalker chasing a female star. Though the point-of-view is unexpected, Jewel delivers an earthy, growling vocal over a live band; it's the only straight-up rock track on the album, but its anxiety about celebrity feels congruent with the rest of the project. In contrast, the closing track, "Becoming," is a breezy, autobiographical tune about self-actualization. Though it's drum-machine laden production rests comfortably with the dance tunes, the track hearkens back to Jewel's early folk music about trying to find one's self in a chaotic world. It's a sweet conclusion to a cheeky record.

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