If one were to inspect the UK album charts right now, they would see some very familiar names, such as Adele, Coldplay and even The Beatles. However, there is a new name featured in the top 5 that many music fans may not yet be aware of. With the release of her debut album Skin, there has been an explosion of commercial and critical acclaim aimed towards the London artist Joy Crookes.
This can be put down to the amalgamation of a whole host of attributes which have enabled the genesis of this highly talked about album and artist. The multi-faceted nature of Crookes and her debut LP can be heard even in the very first line of opening song I Don’t Mind. Although the song itself is a simple one and is lyrically quite short, there is so much in opening line ‘you wanted my body, not my mind’. It is a brave and powerful lyric to start an album with and introduces her introspective nature as a songwriter as well as her soulful voice.
I Don’t Mind ends with a warm sax solo that rounds off the relaxed R&B-type beat well, but this is contrasted by the much more active beat that begins the verse of track two 19th Floor, although Crookes’ vocals which come in remain relaxed. The song is a comment on her roots, indicated by the line ‘I remember where I belong’, and heritage; ‘you leave the traces…handed down through the generations.’ Anyone who also grew up in London will appreciate that she captures this experience well with lines such as: ‘nothing same but nothing different’, describing the ‘cinema skylines’ that ‘strip the life out of these streets’. Strings originally heard in the intro return to add weight to the final chorus.
The smooth, soulful and jazzy keys that get Poison underway are misleading as the song is a topically heavy one, with Crookes comparing a lover to a venomous snake. The tale of a relationship is also explored in following number When You Were Mine, the opening of which starts to feel iconic after a few listens of the album, with its combination of quickfire, clever lyrics and a brass and piano riff possessing big presence. The lyric conjures up a Brixton scene well without giving too many details of the story away.
The adept use and control of Crookes’ vocals, smoothly transitioning in and out of her head voice within the lines ‘I could let you break the laws I once made for me, if you want to, cause I want you’ heard in track six To Lose Someone showcase the beauty in her voice, while the lyric ‘to love someone is to lose someone’ leaves you aching with sympathy. This feeling is also experienced after listening to Unlearn You, which initially comes across as a soft and thoughtful ballad but which upon further study may be interpreted as actually being a very dark song, given the lines ‘can I cross you out, oh wash the memory down, and unlearn you from my body’.
Things pick up with Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, which starts with a fantastic bass groove that Crookes’ vocals fit in with rhythmically and melodically. The song is powerful in many aspects, with the rhythm and melody also working very well in the chorus, and the lyrics offering food for thought, such as the line ‘I’d rather kill than show my face’ which unearths an increasingly prominent issue within society. The expert use of rhythm and melody and its marriage with the amazing vocals continues with the intro to Wild Jasmine, although the song changes up when the drums start up and the catchy chorus begins.
The last 3 songs are stylistically similar, focusing on piano and vocals, as well as strings. Crookes is so talented as an artist that it would not be too improper to compare these songs, with the vocal timbre, vibrato and heaviness they feature, to the work of Billie Holiday, while the way she sings ‘power’ in penultimate track naturally triggers thoughts of Nina Simone’s Sinnerman. The topics have a weight to them to match, with the most awfully sad lines on the album implying the all-too-familiar experience of wishing to save someone suffering from suicidal tendencies heard on title track Skin.
Those from South London will appreciate that Joy Crookes provides a great example of the kind of multi-cultural and vibrant talent that is currently thriving within the region. However, the combination of an outstanding voice, enviable songwriting ability and a down to earth persona is what sets Joy Crookes apart and what will make her into the star she will surely become.