Album Review: Jewel – Perfectly Clear

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Perfectly Clear is absolutely magnificent and gloriously country. But only for three minutes and fifty-five seconds.

That’s the duration of “Anyone But You,” a starkly classic heartbreak ballad, co-written by Jewel and Wynn Varble, which is startling in its traditional aesthetic and delivered with unexpected authenticity and uncalculated emotion. The track opens with a gentle piano and a warm, subtle fiddle, both instruments ushering in, and subsequently wrapping themselves around, a vocal performance that is easily among the best of her career; confident, vulnerable, controlled, but still characteristically emotive.

Heavily reminiscent of Patsy, it’s a shame the rest of Perfectly Clear doesn’t follow in those brilliant footsteps.

Instead, this debut country album finds the multi-platinum singer/songwriter dodling on essentially the same artistic canvas as her previous effort, the unremarkable Goodbye Alice In Wonderland. Unrelentingly tranquil, and with token country instruments scattered throughout what often sound like forced arrangements, Perfectly Clear lacks the narrative conflict between abrasivenesses and sensitivity that was the hallmark of so much of Jewel’s earlier songwriting.

“Stronger Woman,” the album’s opening track, (and lead single), sets a tone that is followed almost without fail–these are slickly produced mid-tempos, birthed from a suburban perspective, that find Jewel falling in and out of various degrees of love. It’s all very touching, but it’s also all very boring.

Where her 1995 album Pieces Of You is a mountain rainshower that comes unexpectedly, wind gusting, and pours out a swell of emotion over and around you, Perfectly Clear is a soft summer breeze that gently blows across your face. It is the difference between poetry that demands your attention and poetry that simply asks for it.

On Perfectly Clear, there is no grit, no anger, no bitterness, no angst, no wonder, no anticipation or expectation, and very little passion. Instead it is polite, and clean, and mundane. “I Do” and “Thump Thump” are sweetly-swaying but nondescript love songs that tap at the heartstrings rather than tug, while “2 Become 1″ provides the requisite, “song that has already appeared on a previous Jewel album”–although, like the album as a whole, it is neither exceptionally country nor exceptionally noteworthy.

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