The last time listeners encountered Jewel, the famously sensitive singer/songwriter had just performed an extreme makeover on herself, refashioning herself as a dance-pop diva on 2003's 0304. Artistically, it worked against all odds, and it did pretty well on the charts too, debuting at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, but her fans didn't necessarily warm to it, and three years later, Jewel is running away from the album she proclaimed as her "first record I enjoy listening to" ("It's fun!"), and back to safe territory ...
The last time listeners encountered Jewel, the famously sensitive singer/songwriter had just performed an extreme makeover on herself, refashioning herself as a dance-pop diva on 2003's 0304. Artistically, it worked against all odds, and it did pretty well on the charts too, debuting at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, but her fans didn't necessarily warm to it, and three years later, Jewel is running away from the album she proclaimed as her "first record I enjoy listening to" ("It's fun!"), and back to safe territory with 2006's Goodbye Alice in Wonderland. Like 0304, this album comes with an explanation/apology from its auteur: "Goodbye Alice in Wonderland is the story of my life and is the most autobiographical album I have made since Pieces of You...By the end of the 13th song, if you have listened closely, you will have heard the story of the sirens song that seduced me, of a path I both followed and led, of bizarre twists and turns that opened my eyes, forcing me to find solutions so that discovering the truth would not lead to a loss of hope." And, yes, the album is indeed a song cycle, tracing her crisis of the soul in the wake of her dance-pop move, which might make Goodbye Alice in Wonderland sound pompous and self-absorbed, which it kind of is on one level; after all, albums that find an artist examining the fallout of a commercial success that they were a willing participant in are kind of narcissistic. But even if Goodbye is a bit of an unwitting star-trip -- Jewel may be trying to run from stardom, but the issues she explores here are too autobiographical, too much like diary entries to resonate deeply on a larger scale -- it doesn't mean the album doesn't work. In fact, as a piece of music and as a coherent set of songs, it's Jewel's strongest yet. Assisted by producer Rob Cavallo -- who has produced records for Michelle Branch and the Goo Goo Dolls, along with every Green Day album since 1995's Nimrod -- Jewel has created her most sonically appealing record, one that has plenty of different shades and textures. This keeps her ceaseless introspection from sounding like excessive navel-gazing, but it also helps draw out the variety within the songs themselves, which range from the meandering ballad of the title track to the ruminative, moody "Last Dance Rodeo" to the blatantly Dylanesque phrasing of "Stephenville, TX" to a trio of her best pop songs in "Again and Again," "Only One Too," and "Words Get in the Way." True, Jewel still has a tendency to spin out lyrics that are embarrassingly precious, but as a writer she's never been stronger, particularly in terms of the construction of the songs; these are tight, sturdy, melodic songs that are among her most memorable. And not only are the individual moments strong, but they add up to a cohesive, satisfying whole. In that sense, it's not altogether dissimilar to 0304, which she may be apologizing for now, but prior to this album, it was the only one of her records that held together from beginning to end. Goodbye Alice in Wonderland may have an entirely different feel and intent than its glitzy predecessor, but like 0304, it is proof that even if Jewel doesn't have as high a profile, or perhaps as large an audience, as she did in 1996, she's a better songwriter and record-maker than she was at the outset of her career. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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