In a time when so many artists are fed through a system churning out pop songs meant to make money rather than to express the artist’s emotions, it’s rather refreshing to have Joss Stone on the music scene. While the occasional pop song does translate into a hit that even the most cynical of us can appreciate, it will never be the same thing as listening to something that was written from the heart – which sums up the work put into the album Colour me Free.
Another thing that set Joss Stone’s new album apart is that the impetus came from her rather than the label. She didn’t write it because she had a deadline, but rather because she had a musical itch she had to scratch. Even more interesting is that her label actually gave her trouble for this.
It’s pretty obvious by now that I have a big positive bias towards this album even before I listened to it. Thankfully, my enthusiasm paid off in the form of 12 great tracks.
This album having been recorded on the whim of Joss Stone’s musical itch, I was wondering if it would feature one or two emotions throughout or rather if there would be a wide range of them she would be addressing. The verdict: the album features the latter, i.e. many emotions and concerns she has about many subjects.
On first listen, you might think that the album is only about positive things – but a closer listen quickly determines that this is far from being a superficial feel good type of album, despite the mostly upbeat tempos features on it.
The opening song, “Free Me,” sets the tone for the entire album. Upbeat and cheerful, it tackles an important topic, that of authenticity: “Don’t tell me that I won’t/I will/Don’t tell me how you think/how feel/Don’t tell me ‘cuz I know what’s real/That, I can do.” She goes on with: “Singing in Our On voice/We can make that choice/to be, to be free.”
Love being the most mysterious emotion of them all, Joss Stone dedicates many songs to it. You would have thought the track “Incredible” would be praising the attributes of something or someone, but you would be mistaken. Quite the contrary: She talks about how incredibly shameful men can act towards women: “So many days I might have wasted/Staring at the picture fading/Get the camera off my face now/Time’s running out/Stop pushing me down/You’re incredible, you shock me daily/Unforgettable, now get some help/Can I mention you sent me to your hell.” The fact that the song is so upbeat can leave one to pause, as it might seem a little out of place; then again, how best to deal with a negative situation than by being inspired, empowered and bolstered to act? The upbeat tempo of this song seems to encourage the women of the world in such a relationship to demand their partner stop pushing them down.
That’s what I call constructive.
The song “Four and Twenty” is one of my favorites. It reminds me of a 1950s lounge filled with cigar smoking men and their partner, watching the stage where a beautiful woman in a sparkly dress is singing about lost love, accompanied by a pianist and bassist. This song is not quite about lost love – yet. Joss is yet again taking a stance, this time with a man who is hesitant about their relationship, and she demands that he makes up his mind about it: “They say time waits for no man/And neither does this woman”. She’s also quite systematic about it, with objectives and a deadline clearly defined: “I’ve been holding on/For way too long/I can’t go on/You’ve got 4&20 hours/Just one day to prove to me/That your love has got the power/To make me believe.” Do we have a natural manager on our hands, ladies and gentlemen?
Another favorite of mine is the song “Lady,” in which Joss Stone grapples with something I’m sure many young ladies can strongly relate to. On the one hand, there is a man she feels very sexually attracted to, so much so that it leaves her tongue-tied: “My, oh my, honey you’re looking so fine/And my lips can’t say it.” On the other hand, she shares how, despite these strong feelings, she still wants to remain a lady: “I’d like to get all over it!/See, baby I’ll admit!/I could teach you a thing or two/Making all of your dreams come true/In ways that you never knew/But I got to keep my lady!” What a change of pace from the usually sexually charged songs we are exposed to nowadays, and what a great reflection it can encourage, for there doesn’t seem to be many places where young women can both admit to having a strong sexuality and wanting to remain a lady. In a world of extremes, women tend to be classified either as a merely sexual object or one devoid of sexuality. Clearly a discussion is needed, and such a discussion can only be had if we are open and honest about the situation as well as about our own selves within this situation.
Joss Stone is also taking a political stand with her song “Governmentalist,” featuring Nas. She challenges members of governments to send their own children to fight a useless war meant to profit monetarily for a few. This song is surprisingly upbeat, perhaps reflecting an increase in grassroots involvement to uncover the truth hiding behind the many lies we are told: “Like trying to get a hold of smoke and water/Coming up with nothing everytime/How come we ain’t getting any closer/Trying to find the truth behind the lies.” A form of call to action that incites determination rather than plain anger, it’s the kind of inspirational constructive criticism the world today needs.
The rest of the songs are also as meaningful and upbeat, reflecting the dynamism and hopes of today’s younger generation taking control of its destiny. Arts are meant to inspire, and this album, given a close listen, does just that. Putting a unique spin on many recurring emotions and topics, it encourages listeners to look at them in a different light so that perhaps they will be inspired to act in a different way to finally be able to make a change.
First published here on Blogcritics.