No One Is Really Beautiful

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Jude graduated from college with a philosophy degree -- a usual surefire sign that his pop music would come loaded with cerebral sentiment. Anyone who has listened to their share of Jude's labelmate, Alanis Morissette, knows that dimestore philosophy can be a stumbling block, with self-important lyrics often getting in the way of well-executed sounds and ideas. But No One's Really Beautiful surprises by balancing lofty thoughts with an accomplished production that heightens the tongue twisters this artist is so fond of, while camouflaging the heady themes that run through several of his songs. Case in point: the stellar "Rick James" dances around sympathy for abused women, but the retro-drum track and rollicking, downtown funk guitar, paired with Jude's bubbly delivery, makes sure it steers far clear of preachy territory. Elsewhere, Jude lets the songs play out for themselves, letting sublimely bare arrangements and his often "lovable nerd" voice speak for themselves. On "You Mama You," he sounds like a jubilantly caffeinated Woody Guthrie; with "She Gets the Feeling," he sings about progressing in a relationship with the aggressiveness of Apollo Creed's punches while a muffled percussion loop keeps the mood fittingly smoky around him. This debut proves that Jude's sense of humor and his welcome embrace of pop culture could turn him into a worthy rival of Jewel, albeit thankfully without her weighty dose of pathos.

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