"WE ARE LOVED BEYOND OUR ABILITY TO COMPREHEND" and other high school yearbook quotes decorate the cover, and these are guarenteed to turn off fashionable cynics and hardcore Tori Amos fans. Not to diss either group of people, but this album just isn't for them; Jewel's second effort is better appreciated by people who want something simple, but not condescendingly so.
Spirit leans more to Barbra Streisand's '70s sound, a kind of light poignance that gets its power from classical/folk guitar arrangements and a pure-sounding voice. The songs are gorgeously packaged by Patrick Leonard who also co-wrote the first single "Hands". There are a couple of more radio-friendly tunes but on the whole, Spirit doesn't have many catchy hooks (the current released-to-radio single "Jupiter" is a major rearrangement of the album version) and it's one of those albums that require repeated listenings.
The album version of "Jupiter" is much less Celine Dion than its radio release, much more folksy. Jewel's lyrics are often criticized but in the area of sensuality, she holds her own in this song as well as "Enter From The East" and "Absence Of Fear". It's when Jewel steps out of this realm where the lyrics tend to get a little self-absorbed ("Twilight decends on our silhouette / how soon spring comes / how soon spring forgets") or plain boring ("The more I live / the more I know / what's simple is true / I love you").
My main complaints are with the "preachy" songs like "Innocence Maintained", "What's Simple Is True" and the judgmental "Do You", that just plain irritate. Jewel's didactic style wears thin after the first couple of songs and it may turn you off the entire album, and this is where she stands to lose. These songs are obviously written not for herself but to impart; the exposition and lack of subtlety can only work against her on this.
But for the most part, the melodies and arrangements are elegant, if uninteresting at times. "Barcelona" with its dedicated chorus is another song with good potential for radio. Jewel's voice is beautiful in her expert head-to-chest technique in songs like "Kiss The Flame", and she isn't afraid to sound scratchy for the sake of soul in "Down So Long". There are no annoying vocal showcases and the instrumental arrangements are clean, warmly acoustic and textured. An a cappella track featuring Jewel's mother Nedra Carroll, Jewel's mother, is an extra bonus in perfect austerity.
Spirit is ultimately appreciated by listeners in search of something meaningful but simple. It might not be easy to agree with her a hundred percent but with a little absence of expectation, Spirit can be enjoyable to anyone who's finding Little Earthquakes traumatic.