Mixtapes for Hookers

2003. The Boys All Freak And Song #6 Is Bumpin’
November 3, 2009, 5:27 pm
Filed under: design of a decade, lists, music | Tags: , , ,

[I am so not finishing this list before the end of the year…]

6. Jewel, Yes U Can*

Picture it: Cranston, Rhode Island, 1996.  I am fifteen years old and nightly my parents and I sit down to painfully awkward and uncomfortably starchy dinners.  To stop me from complaining too much they let me pick out the dinner soundtrack.  I am at the height of my angst-ridden period, but unlike most other angst-ridden teenagers I don’t do drugs or explore Satan worship or wRiTe In ThE kOrN sTyLe.  No, my cathartic muse was Jewel, the Alaskan singer who once lived in a van and who had an eight-minute long song about a very bad canoe accident.  Jewel had messed-up teeth and sang that song about how she was sensitive and wanted to stay that way.  She yodeled, too, and had that other song that went “oh Jew! oh Jew!”

Jewel went on to become wildly famous, of course, mainly because she re-recorded several tracks off the album to make them more radio-friendly.  The poppier version of You Were Meant For Me was fine, but the massively altered Foolish Games took a corny yet delicate ballad and blew it up to an unholy mess.  It was, I thought, a huge sellout; Jewel belonged in a bedroom, or a van, writing poetry in a notebook, not singing goopy slow jams for Batman soundtracks.

I mention this all because she would be accused of selling out again much later, and I’m not talking about the special Christmas version of her hit song Hands.  I’m talking about 2003, the year of many selling out accusations.  Fountains of Wayne sold out, folks said, exchanging indie cred for a Best New Artist Grammy nomination seven whole years after Radiation Vibe.  Liz Phair sold out, too, aiming for the Sex And The City audience and alienating 99% of her fans.**

But Jewel’s transformation was different, because in 2003 she was already a commercial radio star with a bunch of hits.  So the jump from heavily-produced folk to Cole Porter-inspired electro was kind of a big one, and one that many longtime fans  couldn’t handle. To make matters worse, she named her album 0304 and wouldn’t explain why, and then appeared on the cover wearing pink and yellow.  Oh, and she also had long, windswept hair and a hint of Lara Croft’s abs.  She was like a brand-new person.

A brilliant brand-new person.  I won’t pretend that Pieces of You has aged very well, or that her other albums have more than two or three good songs each.  But I will defend 0304 to the death.  It is so good.  Intuition, the album’s only hit, is a great single, regardless of the mixed messages that accompanied it.  (NB: A song that makes fun of advertising should maybe not be licensed to a lady’s razor campaign.)  Fragile Heart, her best ballad, is the sweetest Magnetic Fields song that Stephin Merritt never conceived.  And don’t forget that America rhymed “we like spam” with “Polanski’s banned.”

Best of all,  the glammy Yes U Can mentions feathered hair and repeatedly uses the word bumpin’.  It also mentions hot pants and men with dolls.  It’s crazy coming from Jewel, and as such is simultaneously more and less convincing than if it were by anyone else.  In that way it’s reminiscent of On and On and On, the lone batty ABBA song where they sing about being famous and hanging out at parties with government ministers.

(*This song does not seem to exist anywhere on the internet.  Fucking Atlantic.  But this video is something… Skip ahead to about 1:30, it’s kind of insane.)

(**These are not bad things.  You’ll notice that both Stacey’s Mom and Why Can’t I? made my longlist of the year’s best songs.)

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