PERHAPS one of the most cruelly overlooked Pop albums of the last decade or so has been Welsh singer Jem’s debut album, Finally Woken. While it received strong positive reviews on release, Finally Woken seems to have faded into obscurity over time. Jem’s second album was released just a few years after her debut to little fanfare and the release of her third album has been plagued by problems, and has still failed to see the light. With the lack of activity, Finally Woken has slipped next to Dido into the unknown area of Adult Alternative of the mid 2000s of songs that appeared far too much on Grey’s Anatomy.
But it’s unfair to relegate Jem to that corner of musical history. While her breathy vocals are perhaps not to everyone’s taste, it’s important to recognise that this album is far more than just a band-wagon jumper of the times. What really makes this album is the instrumentation that is featured throughout. Unpredictable, diverse and exciting, Finally Woken draws from the likes of Trip-Hop, Folk, Electronica, Classical and Rock to take its form. Take opener ‘They’ for example; a popular radio hit, it’s vocal sample gives the song a creepy feel, while at the same time grounding the song with a strong drum beat that seems to be pulled from a drum machine.
Indeed, many of the songs on Finally Woken contain cinematic elements that compliment Jem’s vocals, while at the same time working surprisingly well with the different influences. ’24’ brings in these intense strings that drive the song forward, something that’s echoed in the very alt-rock guitar and accompanies it later on in the song. Hell, there’s even some bells thrown into the mix. ‘Come on Closer’ also brings in some cinematic elements, with some orchestration not unlike something from a 50’s Fred Astaire film. Once again that guitar makes a come back, with a very Alanis Morissette vibe, as Jem’s double-tracked vocals give even more atmosphere to the number.
Of course, being the album it is, there are still some ‘safer’ elements, per say. The song ‘Just a Ride’ is probably the most radio-friendly song on the album, with it’s chirpy, upbeat instrumentation and peppy message, it’s slightly underwhelming in comparison to some of the more dramatic songs on this record, but still pretty decent. ‘Save Me’ is another one that plays more to the more mainstream audience, but the layered vocals and percussive elements keep the appeal strong. Even if some of the tracks have more of a mainstream appeal, that doesn’t stop them from being enjoyable.
Jem’s vocals themselves of course play a strong part in the album itself. While her lyrics are sort of basic, and occasionally cliché (‘I wish this could be a happy song/But my happiness disappeared the moment you were gone’) they are at least personal, and her vocals give them an ghostly edge, especially when layered or manipulated. One of the best examples of how effective this can be comes in the closing track ‘Flying High’, genuinely one of the most touching moments on the record. Accompanied by a guitar and a string section, the sheer beauty of it is something to behold. The lyrics are both naïve and tender, loving and autobiographical, and Jem really produces something excellent here.
Maybe I biased, after all, I strongly associate this album with my early teenage years, along with my Technika MP3 player, Gorillaz and The Bourne Identity. But that doesn’t take away the fact that Jem was and is a talented song writer, and produced some enjoyable, if not brilliant, Adult Alternative music of the mid-2000s.
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