Jewel’s 0304 has been touted as the singer’s Ray of Light. It may be a stretch, but like Madonna’s benchmark opus, 0304 reinvents its subject and jumpstarts a career on the wane. Like Ray of Light, the album breaks little musical ground and is, in fact, more pop than electronica, but it also presents one of the most startling—yet oddly fitting—transformations in pop history. In many ways, Jewel is simply fulfilling her destiny; she’s become the pop tart her critics have accused her of being from the very start. But just one look at the cheeky music video for “Intuition,” the album’s first single, and it’s clear she’s in on the joke. “Jewel’s music sounds much better now that she’s dancing!” reads a fake TRL crawl. What’s more, if you’re going to sell out (and for fans of the singer’s more earnest, more organic work, that’s exactly what Jewel is doing), at least do it with an infectious pop song like “Intuition.” She urges us to follow our hearts but then taunts, “Sell your sin/Just cash in.” (It’s not all tongue-in-cheek, though: you can currently hear the French accordion of “Intuition” in a commercial for a razor of the same name.) Like Madonna’s own American Life, Jewel takes a few shots at the American dream on the sugary “Stand” and “America,” a track the singer claims her record label made her change out of “fear of litigation.” (What remains are swipes at Bush, the Osbournes and self-tanner, as well as a shout-out to banished director Roman Polanski.) A few tracks on the album successfully capture the essence of “folktronica”—namely the thumping “Run 2 U” and jazzy, trip-poppy “Leave the Lights On”—but songs like the retro, new wavy “Yes U Can” and the catchy “U & Me = Love” wouldn’t sound out of place on a No Doubt record. In fact, 0304 is less Ray of Light than it is Rock Steady. You can take the guitar out of the girl’s hands but you can’t expect her to stop rocking.
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