Happy 15th Anniversary to Jewel’s fifth studio album 0304, originally released June 3, 2003.
When the Alaskan born Jewel Kilcher's debut Pieces of You greeted the record buying public in early 1995 via Atlantic Records, it had been a long time coming for the singer-writer-guitarist. Comprised of live and studio folk oriented compositions, Pieces of You embarked on a marathon stretch of singles and sales well into the summer of 1997. Jewel's debut quickly placed her among a rare class of singer-songwriters redefining that space in the 1990s.
Seven years later, Jewel pulled the curtain back on This Way (2001), which married her folk aesthetic with an aptitude for polished AOR hinted at on the antecedent Spirit (1998). It was a change, though not unforeseen, for Jewel and reflected her lived experiences and exposure to other musical influences.
To prove that point in late 2002, when the world music inflected “Serve the Ego” was lifted as the final single from This Way, Jewel was being romanced by club scene phonics associated with Los Angeles and New York City. Having been so impacted by these sounds, Jewel decided to consider remix treatments for “Serve the Ego,” allowing it to function in a discothèque environment. Various DJ treatments of “Serve the Ego” propelled the single to the pole position of the American dance chart—a first for Jewel. Heartened by this, Jewel began to truly think “out of the box” for her fifth effort 0304.
Excluding “Fragile Heart,” “2 Become 1” and “Sweet Temptation” where Jewel shared co-writing credits with Anthony Bell, Guy Chambers and Rick Nowels respectively, the mass of 0304 was lyrically designed and sonically executed by Jewel and Lester Mendez. The former facet was the beating heart of the album. The seemingly dichotomous—but ultimately harmonious—coalition of songs touching on matters of the heart (“Run 2 U”), sexual exploration (“Leave the Lights On”) and stinging social commentary (“Intuition,” “America”) is wryly set to the pop cultural and political gait of 2003 that carried over into 2004—hence the LP's nom de guerre.
Musically, Jewel honored the penned potency of these songs with arrangements equally as intense. Explaining the creative mindset in detail, Jewel included an annotation inside of the accompanying 0304 booklet that reads, “Dear fans, where to start? This record may seem different to you. To me, it's closer to what has been in my head for years. I wanted to make a record that was a modern interpretation of big band music. A record that was lyric-driven, like Cole Porter stuff, that also had a lot of swing. And a lot of it is thanks to Lester (Mendez), because when I told him I wanted to make a record that combined dance, urban and folk music, he didn't look at me like I was crazy. I loved making this record, and it's the first record I enjoy listening to. It's fun! I hope you all love it. I hope it makes you feel young and sexy and smart.”
0304 is a declarative statement recalling—and linking Jewel to—a proud lineage of women like Carly Simon (1979's Spy), Suzanne Vega (1993's 99.9F°) and Tori Amos (1998's From the Choirgirl Hotel) who dared to depart from the singer-songwriter model ascribed to them. The album dazzles with its bricolage of light dance grooves (“Stand”), folktronica (“Intuition”), power pop (“Yes U Can”), country (“Fragile Heart”) and just a bit of jazz (“Leave the Lights On”) for good measure. Jewel's fluency in all of these genre languages, even those that she is using for the first time, is indicative of her willingness to try new things. Vocally, 0304 effortlessly conveys Jewel's trademark blend of wisdom and naiveté typified in any and all of her previous projects.
Released on June 3, 2003, one month after the election of the satirically brilliant “Intuition” as its first single, the reception for 0304 was decidedly mixed. For as many fans and critics applauding Jewel's gambit, there was another sect of them that purposely set out to willfully malign and misrepresent 0304 as little more than a “cash-in” on the pre-fab pop boom which had already cooled by 2003.
In an interview with ABC's Cynthia McFadden close to the release of the LP's second single “Stand,” Jewel remarked candidly about the animosity toward her new long player, “I really do challenge the idea that you can't be sexy and smart at the same time.” It was that broader and extroverted sense of self, manifested both personally and professionally in 0304, that incensed the puritanical alternative/folk-pop collective that initially gifted Jewel with a platform. The undertaking of base expansion by an artist is always risky and this roll of the dice granted Jewel new listeners as much as it alienated others.
While Jewel continued to produce accomplished LPs in an array of styles—some of which even held reconstituted tracks from her fifth affair—none were as defiantly bold as 0304. Rooted in the reinvention emblematic of Jewel's foremothers who rejected the authenticity politics of the singer-songwriter designation without shortchanging its lyrical drive, 0304 is a triumph.