After reviewing what might be the absolute nadir of American popular music in the last installment of The People’s Albums, I was hoping for something that would revitalize my enthusiasm for this series. Instead, I got this…
Album: Pieces Of You
Release Date: February 28, 1995 (My 6th birthday!)
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 12 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Things Associated With Coffee
The archetype of the female coffeehouse singer is one that has a pretty significant place in ‘90s pop culture lore. Now I can’t assume that every feminist-leaning acoustic singer-songwriter to hit it big in the ‘90s had ever played a single gig inside a coffeehouse. But nonetheless, there did seem to be a lot of female pop singers that had this kind of mystique that made it easy to imagine these chicks hanging out at your local coffeeshop, just layin’ down some tunes.
Jewel had all of this, and then some. Not only did she have the right mixture of good looks and Joni Mitchell sincerity, but she also had plenty of coffeehouse cred to boot. I mean for God sakes, half of the songs on Pieces of You were recorded live at the Innerchange Coffeehouse in San Diego. And on top of that, she also managed to lure in listeners with a number of distinctive quirks, like the fact that she was from Alaska (“People actually live there?”) and enjoyed writing bad poetry. Also, I can’t help but think that the popularity of the TV show Friends might’ve subconsciously had something to do with Jewel’s success, since she basically had the persona of a more put-together Phoebe Buffay.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
Aside from everything else that might’ve contributed to America’s brief infatuation with Jewel, the main reason for Pieces Of You’s multi-platinum status is the two singles “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant For Me”. In the pantheon of great guilty-pleasure ‘90s songs, I wouldn’t rank either of these that high. But compared to most of the other songs on Pieces Of You, they are masterpieces. Like I was amazed to find myself anxiously awaiting the moment that “You Were Meant For Me” would finally come up on the album, and free me from the otherwise crushing mediocrity of Jewel’s moody acoustic meandering.
But that’s really the most glaring problem with this album: it’s mediocrity. It’s not terrible or anything, it’s just that I’ve heard about a million other singer-songwriters with about the same amount of songwriting prowess that Jewel’s putting on display here. You could literally walk in to any open mic night happening anywhere across America right now, and you’d probably find some lady performing songs that are at about the same level as Jewel’s. It just so happened that Jewel managed to stumble on to a pair of songs that had a sufficient enough level of popsmanship to skyrocket her to stardom. Which is weird to think that it’s that fine a line that separates a lifetime of obscurity from a long career in music, but I guess that’s the music business for ya.
Would I Pay Money For This?
The blandness of this album seems to have rubbed off on me, as I’m struggling to think of any creative circumstance under which I’d pay money for Pieces Of You. So I’ll just say naaaahhhh…
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I’ll see if the Dixie Chicks can make me ashamed to not be from Texas with their album Wide Open Spaces.