Joy Crookes radiates a self-confidence that defines herself in terms of who she isn’t. Transcending labels with her blend of neo-soul and R&B, she takes all the hooks, choruses, and high value associated with pop and packages them into something wiser. After all, calls to soul, jazz, and Motown are considered the province of generations past, right? Wrong. Spiced up with modern production and relatable reference points, 22-year-old Crookes is the real thing.
In the past two years alone, she has been nominated for the BRITs Rising Star Award, was due to support Harry Styles pre-pandemic, and has sold out her headline shows across the UK and Europe. She imbues her music with a genuine soulfulness, all the while touching on vulnerable topics including mental health, generational trauma, politics, and sex.
Honouring her Bangladeshi-Irish heritage, ‘Skin’ places this pertinence front and centre. The title track’s lyrics are evident: "Don’t you know the skin that you’re given was made to be lived in? You’ve got a life. You’ve got a life worth living". Crookes dispenses wider encouragement and, despite the pain, remains optimistically intimate with her featherlight tones as orchestral soul-jazz weaves around her. Later in the album, her skin becomes the subject of a political narrative in ‘Power’, where she makes an ode to the female figures in her life while exploring the misuse of authority in the current social climate.
The misty-eyed haze lifts on songs like ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Wild Jasmine’ which are filled with guitar riffs and experimental sonics. Crookes twists through narratives of both new beginnings and old flames, finding value in tumultuous times. Inviting listeners to daydream, ‘19th Floor’ laments on belonging. With a string arrangement that wouldn’t feel out of place on the discography of Portishead, Crookes vocal comparably reaches untold altitudes. Across ‘Skin’, the 13 smooth jams showcase Joy Crookes not only as a vocalist or candid writer but as the new face of British soul. While many artists chase nostalgia, Crookes offers a different way forward by disregarding the traditional boundaries of classicism.
Words: Hannah Browne
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