Today’s POP RESCUE is the 2004 album Finally Woken by Welsh singer and songwriter Jem, but is this album an awakening, or a bit of a snooze-fest? Read on…
I’ve never knowingly heard a Jem song before, so I have no idea what I’m about to hear… but let’s get started anyway…
This 11 track album opens with the gentle ‘bah bah dahs‘ of debut single They, sounding initially like it’s going to be a tiny bit Christmassy, before pulling in a beat and vocal that sounds like it’s been borrowed from the Sugababes‘ hit Overload. Jem’s vocals are rich, soulful, and rarely shaken from it’s course. The song is warm, and builds up perfectly and is aided in this by the layers of vocals. This single gave her a #6 UK hit. A great start to an album.
This is followed by Come On Closer, which like previous song, blends samples (using a wonderful old sample from Hindi song Baharon Phool Barsao), beats, and vocal layers, but this song includes some wonderfully roaring electric guitar and a heavier bass.
The title track Finally Woken is up next, opening with waves and seagulls… and here we get a wonderful little sample which compliments a lazy, hazy, sea song. The sample is actually from Ride A Cock Horse and performed by 1960’s kids TV pig puppet stars Pinky & Perky, which I guess earns some kudos, and thankfully its just a music sample and not vocals. The song is almost a kind of lullaby, laden with soft and dreamy vocals, and with music that swells and fades and swells again, much like the sea that it sings about.
Save Me follows this, which takes a different style and is far more up-beat. At times, it reminds me musically of Dy-Na-Mi-Tee by Ms Dynamite, minus the rapping and with a lot of layered soft vocals instead. It’s a really nice little track.
This is followed by fourth and final single 24, and this sees Jem pitched against strings and a roaring hard electric guitar. This single failed to chart in all but the US where it got stuck at #98. The guitar kind of dominates here, leaving Jem feeling like second best, and occasionally making her vocals a little hard to hear. There’s a nice Jem vs strings section at about 2mins 30s, where her vocals shine, before the guitar comes roaring back in for the final push.
Next up is Missing You, and this feels like a very personal song. It’s downbeat, simple, and Jem’s sad vocals are strong but downbeat. Guitars and bass descend with her, with strings soaring with her. The end result, aside from making what could be a credible James Bond theme, is a wonderfully sad little song that even Adele must admire.
By contrast, Wish I follows, and it is far more up-beat and bright. Jem’s vocals, set alongside the music in the verses makes it sound like a cover of a 50’s Hawaiian beach song, thanks to liberal use of a sample from 1964’s track Dearest by Dottie and Bonny. This was the third and final charting single, reaching #24 in the UK singles chart in September 2005. Unsurprisingly with this beach sound, the track was used as the theme to the 2005 first series of ITV’s Love Island reality TV show.
This is followed by second single Just A Ride which fared better in the UK chart – reaching #16. This is quite a mellow track, with plenty of acoustic guitars and a sound that’s not ever so far from Beth Orton or perhaps even Dido. This acoustic sound comes from a sample of the 1969 plodding Howard Blake track An Elephant Called Slowly which is used heavily here. Jem’s vocals dance lightly over the music here with what feels like minimal effort.
Falling For You sees Jem collaborate with Brian Higgins of Xenomania, but the fat acidy synths and stabbing basslines are not here. Instead, there’s a delightful menacing sequence of guitar chords, which Jem keeps on the leash with her soft, dreamy, rich vocals.
Strings introduce penultimate song Stay Now, before switching over to a gentle beat and acoustic guitar. The flurries of strings here from The FILMharmonic Orchestra, Prague, are beautiful, and set alongside Jem’s breathy vocals really make this a beautiful little song. Even though the album is ‘Finally Woken’, this song feels like a bedtime dreaming song.
The album closes with Jem and acoustic guitar on Flying High. There’s an element of ‘live’ to this track, as you get a sense of every breath, and musically it sounds like it’s been recorded different from the rest. The FILMharmonic Orchestra returns in the first chorus, and stick around as the song builds up. Again, Jem’s vocals are rich and delicate, and absolutely flawless.
Over all, this album has been somewhat of a delightful surprise. I’ve seen this album around – in shops when it was new, and often in amongst the shelves of charity stores and discount stores, so it’s been long overdue a listen. It was worth the wait.
The liberal use of samples, the soft soulful and rich vocals of Jem gives this album a wonderfully warm sound. She’s kind of a less-pop Tracey Thorne, a more gutsy Dido, and a more electronic Beth Orton.
Where is Jem now?
After the initial success of the album and debut single, her popularity in the UK began to slide.
She returned to the UK charts in 2009, with second album Down To Earth, but it stalled, reaching #64 and spending only 1 week on the UK album chart. It fared better in the US, where it was released some months earlier and reached #43.
A third album title Beachwood Canyon, has been in production for some time, and has experienced a number of delays since 2010. In September 2015, ten years after this debut album, she announced on Twitter that she would be recording the video to the lead single from her third album.
Jem is about to wake again.
POP RESCUE RATING
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 4 / 5
- 2004 UK CHART PEAK: #6
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Poundland store.