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"Dear fans, where to start?" Jewel writes in the liner notes for 0304, what she describes as a "lyrically-driven . . . modern interpretation of big band music." While that sounds as appealing as Morrissey fronting Chicago, it actually resembles a smarter Shakira or a folkier No Doubt. And there's plenty more stimuli 2 alienate her natural girl constituency -- a newfound refusal 2 write out the words "you" and "to," pre-selling her latest single "Intuition" 2 the Schick Razor company for $500,000 and penning songs that celebrate her sexuality over her usual somber schtick -- the rest of us will just say "more fake orgasms means less fake Emily Dickinson" and applaud her for taking the money and running

As it turns out, 0304 isn't quite The Jewel Sell Out but there are plenty of up-tempo, New Wave-style ditties that could've doubled as prospective car company jingles -- songs as lyrically profound as "Doin' Fine" and "U & Me = Love" could've been named "Probe" or "Cabriolet" for all the difference it makes. Jewel has found her match in producer Lester A. Mendez (Shakira, Justin Guarini), who achieves here what Madonna's American Life failed 2 do -- merge electronica and folk in a way that's pleasing 2 humans. The album's most perfectly realized single, "Fragile Heart" is the kind of naive Stevie song U used 2 find on a Fleetwood Mac album before the innocence ground 2 a halt.

It's only when Jewel remembers her dear fans and feels she has 2 "say something" that the album suffers. Did Schick actually hear the rest of "Intuition," where Jewel bemoans the ever-increasing popularity of J. Lo ("They say Miss J's Big Butt is boss / Don't wanna know /Kate Moss can't find a job") and her new assignment as Schick Shill Chick ("You've got something you're wanting 2 sell? / Sell your sin / Just cash in")?. If a nation can be anti-war and still support the troops, it shouldn't have any problem with Jewel being anti-sellout and pro-Schick, right?. Then there's the opener "Stand" where she refuses to take a stand on homelessness, crime and violence beyond "Nothing's what it seems, I mean/It's not all dirty, but it's not all clean."

But we'll still take this year's model Jewel, a combination love doll/driver airbag that moans "crash into me," "fall into me," "melt into me" and "press yourself into me" but self-censors the word "fucking" on her own record so that an unsightly "Parental Advisory" sticker on the cover won't clash with her United Colors of Benneton. Fuck duty when booty calls! Uh-huh, all right!

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic