Blimey, this was quite the introduction. Joy Crookes has been making waves in the UK music scene for a few years now, following a series of superb singles that drew obvious comparisons to Amy Winehouse. There’s certainly a warmth to Crookes’ fusion of jazz and R&B that harks back to Back to Black, whilst the classy string arrangements offer a sense of nostalgia for 60s soul. Indeed, the spirit of Shirley Bassey can certainly be found on Skin’s opening track “I Don’t Mind”. A Bond theme sung by Crookes is surely an inevitability.
Debut albums are rarely as accomplished as Skin. The vocal performances are confident and charismatic, and the production has a delicious saturation to it. The crack of the snare is super satisfying, particularly on highlights “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” and “When You Were Mine”. Crookes sings on a personal level, citing forgiveness and healing, but also explores the wider social and political climate of the UK. “Kingdom” was written following the Conservative government returning to office in 2019, and Crookes spares no punches: ‘No such thing as a Kingdom, when tomorrow’s done for the children.’
There’s a slight sonic similarity to Skin that means I’m not totally engrossed all the way through. A little more variety in the instrumentals would have gone a long way, though the record never outstays its welcome. The songwriting is as consistent as it gets. Far less compelling albums have sky-rocketed artists into the stratosphere. Joy Crookes is without a doubt one of the most rawly talented acts to emerge from the UK in quite some time. If she doesn’t make it to the top, the music business is even more rotten than I first feared.
8 out of 10
In the last six and a bit years I’m not sure we’ve reviewed a more assured debut album than Skin. Weaving together larger-than-life arrangements with razor-sharp yet feather-light lyricism, Joy Crookes sits as the centerpiece of a sound I can only describe as big band pop. She carries herself with the gravity of a Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald while keeping her finger firmly on the pulse of modern life.
Although I’ve plenty of love for marquee tracks like “When You Were Mine”, for me the gentler cuts are where the record sings. From “Poison” to “Kingdom”, Crookes squares up to often heinous realities with such firm grace that one can’t help but find the whole process strangely beautiful. As she says in the title track, the skin we’re given was made to be lived in, and she doesn’t half walk the walk here.
8 out of 10
Joy Crookes has given me another reason to think 2021 is the year of the confident, brilliant debut. Skin has a knack for swaying between intimate, soulful jazz cuts and grander, orchestral pieces, making for a satisfying, moreish sound.
Opener “I Don’t Mind” makes for a tasting menu of what’s to come. Underlined by a subtle, electronic bounce, strings and keys unfurl as Crookes’ silky vocal glides across the top. Brass tidbits decorate and develop the track further to an effortless, warm affair. Continue listening, and you’ll find trip-hop beats next to folky, soul-jazz fusions, next to warm, sunny bops.
“Unlearn You” is one of several evocative, piano-driven pieces that sound all the better for their dynamic range as the track swells and diminishes, a testament to both writing and production on this album. It’s hard not to hear a hint of Amy Winehouse here and there too, particularly in the likes of “When You Were Mine”, where the horn section pulls tempo as far as they dare against the snappy drum line backdrop.
With Skin, Crookes has delivered an impressive package. Cinematic soul-jazz is a concoction that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I hope future material will explore further than what we’ve heard here. For now though, this is a strong album that I can see myself returning to, and I can see Joy Crookes being an artist to watch over the next few years.
8 out of 10