The first four bars of Finally Woken shimmer with exciting possibilities. Then the beats kick in, and the excitement vanishes in a flash of lite dancefloor rhythms and basic boombastic basslines.
There's nothing wrong with Finally Woken, as long as you don't mind the wave of unassuming female vocalists who took the music of artists like Portishead and watered it down for bored housewives and doe-eyed college girls. The beats are good, the production is big and clear, the melodies are somewhat memorable, and the vocal performances are as impassioned as a trip to the mall for a sale at Abercrombie & Fitch.
Jem's music is perfectly listenable, but the same thing has been done dozens of times before. Her lyrics are peppered with predictability, and the lite-dance production hurts her. "Come on Closer" is typical of the album's failures: the juxtaposition of sweet lyrics over sinister music doesn't work, because there's nothing even remotely creepy about either her words or delivery. In fact, Jem sounds like a loving woman who is taking great satisfaction in making her partner very, very happy. Had the song been sung a capella, it could have inspired serious shivers of delight, but the arrangement makes it a forgettable album track on a record full of forgettable album tracks.
The artwork is just like the music: competent but dull. On the cover, an attractive young woman is lost in the throes of a really sad day. The photos inside the jacket are less melancholy, and portray Jem as a thoughtful lyricist (her carefully placed dictionary and blurry midriff prove her intelligent sensuality) with a free spirit (she peers out of the passenger side window as a rush of fresh air blows through her dark hair). The photos remind me of the two-dimensional girl I wanted to meet when I was a 16-year-old boy who didn't understand that women are real, honest-to-God human beings who laugh and cry and learn and love and sweat and stink and piss and shit and grow old and die. Nope, the girls I wanted to meet were the ones who lay in bed reading dictionaries and looking cute. Bah. What a bore.
Listen if you like: Dido, Imogen Heap, Beth Orton
If it were food, it'd be: A spicy and exciting meal that will be corrupted for the dull taste buds of mass-market consumers at family restaurants where the servers wear cheery suspenders and the walls are decorated with "antique" knick-knacks that were manufactured by child laborers in Malaysia.