51XBPB6fCXLDown to Earth

(venuszine) With an alarming array of catchy hooks and driving beats, singer-songwriter Jem obviously did well to ditch a law degree in favor of producing music. Down To Earth, her latest release, boasts a wide range of sounds — from harmless remix-ready dance floor ballads to soul-fusion.

Unfortunately, much like fellow Welsh countrywoman and on-the-rise songstress Duffy, Jem is a powerhouse musician in search of a better lyricist. Her strong vocals and innovative musical layering don’t mask what are, at best, lazy wordings, and at worst, total clichés that drive the listener to distraction. While the meat of the album is risky and thoughtful, the verbal overlay derails the effort, compromising the lulling melancholy of “You Will Make It” (“You’ll make it through / I promise you / He’d want you to”), making a nursery rhyme of would-be war-cry “I Always Knew” (“Well, I’m gonna make it to the top / Well, let me show you / And if I’ve got to toughen up / Then that is what I’ll do”), and discrediting her charmingly upbeat “And So I Pray” (“So I pray / I wish that all these things would go away”).

The collection is somewhat redeemed by techno-fab “Aciiid!” where choice French phrases and simplistic chants create a playful dancehall anthem. Meanwhile, “Keep On Walking” wisely uses a gospel chorus to forge a simplistic call for mercy from the relationship gods, giving a reprieve from the predictability of the rest of the album.

A quick skim of Jem’s commercial résumé shows her promising career of setting the score to dramas of screens both large and small — the sweetly lilting piano background of “It’s Amazing” was, in fact, used in a montage for the recent Sex And the City movie. For all its ingenuity, Down To Earth is perhaps best left in the soundtrack arena.

originally published Sep 1 2008

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