Is Jem a club-ready electronica chanteuse or an easygoing adult contemporary artist? It's difficult to tell on Down to Earth, which furthers the dual personality first shown on Jem's 2004 debut. The refusal to settle on one style often serves Jem well, however, and Down to Earth features a bevy of producers who lend their unique approach to each track. Having created diverse sonic stews for Lily Allen and Kylie Minogue -- not to mention his own project, the Bird and the Bee -- Greg Kurstin stops by to helm "Aciiid!," a synth-driven dance track sung partially in Japanese. Elsewhere, hip-hop producer Jeff Bass (who, along with his brother, helped launch Eminem's career) mashes banjo riffs with funk horns on "Crazy," and Lester Mendez (famous for his work with such Latin artists as Santana, Shakira, and Nelly Furtado) employs spoken word samples from West Side Story during the Spanish-tinged "I Want You To...." Those energetic tracks are some of the album's highlights, but they go head to head with songs like "Got It Good," "And So I Pray," and "On Top of the World," all of which are the stuff of lite FM radio stations. Ultimately, the eclecticism shown within Jem's songs may well be a detriment to the album as a whole, since Down to Earth's mix of producers and genres lacks cohesion. It's also worth noting that nothing here is as immediately ingratiating as "They," and while "It's Amazing" (another Mendez vehicle) does feature a similar chorus -- complete with descending minor chords and repeated iterations of the title -- it can't match the original's spunk and spark. Down to Earth's title depicts Jem as a grounded musician, but its wide-ranging sound suggests something different, as the singer has yet to find a style that fully suits her capabilities. Fortunately, her search for the perfect genre still yields some enjoyable songs, as shown by this album's handful of standout tracks.
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AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey
feat: Vusi Mahlasela