Album Review: Joy Crookes – Skin
Cleo Gravett gives a review of Joy Crookes’ debut album Skin.
I listened to Skin through, in the dark, eyes closed, nursing a cup of red wine, as I’m sure Joy Crookes intended. If anything I feel a little cheeky, having only got into her work in the month before the album’s October 15th release, while scores of fans have been waiting for years, tying themselves over on her semi-prolific singles releases.
One of the most obvious things about an otherwise complex record is Crookes’ ability to write about London with immense fondness, a difficult task to execute originally, considering London is a city loved and lyricised by countless musicians. Crookes turned 23 in the week that Skin was released, and the album expertly depicts young-adult milestones: the befuddling world of sexual intimacy, atomic arguments with parents, the joy and pain felt when looking back at childhood and realising that it’s more than just a few steps behind your current self, it’s a chapter firmly written and closed.
Social commentary is woven throughout the album as frequently and seamlessly as these big-city allusions, and refreshingly, is not always sombre — the sobering ‘Unlearn You’ addresses sexual violence and coping mechanisms, while the exuberant ‘When You Were Mine’ proclaims Crookes’ well-wishes towards an ex-boyfriend who then enters a same-sex relationship, channelling both a classic topic and sound through a modern twist.
Skin is one of those albums where you rinse a favourite song until another one grips you; it entices and ensnares like a stickyweed, each song taking turns being your favourite. While the occasional flat note may take a listener by surprise, Crookes has clarified in interviews that it was a conscious choice to keep some in for emotional pertinence, primarily in her haunting ode to where she grew up, ‘19th Floor’, which reflects the gentrification that has turned her home of Elephant and Castle upside down.
The effect of an orchestral section is not overused, and the album shows hints of the entire musical genre spectrum — rap, bossa nova and classical, and while this could imply an artist with a lack of direction, here it serves to show Crookes’ versatility. Addictive mishmashes appear throughout the album, but take centre stage in tracks such as ‘Trouble’, which has an almost nursery rhyme chorus, incorporating videogame sound effects and hints of reggae without clash or imbalance.
Skin is a complete sonic charcuterie board,
dynamic many-layered tracks and smooth slowjams laying side-by-side, and an occasional cinematic quality, particularly in the elemental ballad ‘To Lose Someone’. With such a strong sound, there’s the feeling that something else must have been skimped on, yet nothing lacks. Dreamy backing vocals don’t dilute the politics of the brilliant ‘Kingdom’, and ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’ (Crookes’ most successful recent single), which tackles performative activism in the wake of BLM, has a dry humour to it, as well as an addictive bassline. Her voice has received many complimentary comparisons to Amy Winehouse — full bodied with a pleasant and comforting rasp, and the spoken snippets included on the album are calming, consolidating her singing as an expression rather than a performance.
Structurally, Crookes has managed the rare feat of releasing a debut album that doesn’t feel rushed, probably due to the fact that her artistry has been allowed to mature: the album’s songs were written between the ages of 15-21. The first and last songs of the album seem like interesting choices for bookends — the opener ‘I Don’t Mind’ isn’t the best ambassador of her quintessential sound, and while I feel this is the type of album that deserves to close with a banger rather than the gentle ‘Theek Ache’ (a Bangla phrase translated as “it’s okay”), her modus operandi has always been to surprise with tenderness where we expect strength, and vice-versa.
Though some could argue that voicenotes are overused in the album, they act as a nod to hip-hop skits, and highlight the casual human element that so deeply informs Skin, almost dissolving borders between the listener, and Crookes’ life in sounds. It’s difficult to critique the album due to its immense personal input — the balladic title track is moving, if a little John-Lewis-advert for me, and I don’t love the cover art, but these are almost comically superficial comments when what lies within is so gorgeous.
I have a feeling that there are things that I have missed in this review, and with a record like this, that excites me. It gives me a chance to listen again and again, knowing that it’ll get better with age. Crookes makes enough of a statement with the record in itself, but a few lines from the mighty track ‘Power’, stick in my mind:
“Here’s the truth, one condition/Can’t kill my ambition/Not about if you like how I sing”
I love how she sings, but the point remains — Crookes has made a record completely on her own terms, an invincible portrait of herself as an emerging artist. Skin is a delight, and I’m itching to see what she releases in the future.
Favourite Tracks: When You Were Mine, Kingdom, Wild Jasmine
Least Favourite Track: Unlearn You