A stunning meditation on family, community, and love
Alex Rigotti
15:37 14th October 2021

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Skin, the debut album from Joy Crookes, establishes her as a fascinating songwriter and musician to watch. Blessed with the kind of earthy, jazzy vocals that immediately ground her songs with brevity and presence, the South Londoner communicates a community's worth of life lessons in thirteen songs. Stapled together with catchy piano riffs, brassy interjections and soaring string sections, Skin proves Crookes a competent producer, singer, songwriter, and overall artist. 

Crookes' music has a wonderfully strong rhythm to it; every song has an identifiable groove that forces your body to move, shake, or sway. The understated pianos in 'Poison' grabs your attention immediately with their quietly jaunty manner. The dampened tone is also really well mixed, being quiet enough to build a lowkey atmosphere whilst being crisp enough to keep it interesting. Meanwhile, the slower groove on 'To Lose Someone' supports the mournful meditation on the price of love: "To love someone is to lose someone".

There's also a clear fondness for the people around Crookes, no matter their relation to her. On 'Trouble', Crookes' arguments with a family member lead to the realisation that they argue from the same place. In a fantastic, lilting chorus, she sings: "Birds of feather flock together/Your trouble's the same as mine". On the bombastic 'When You Were Mine', Crookes adopts an onlooker's perspective upon her ex-lover, who has now moved on with a man. She maintains some heartwarming validation and appreciation for this new relationship in a tale that could easily have turned sour: "Someone better look at me like that one day". Whilst Crookes doesn't shy away from her complicated hurt about the matter, it's a refreshing take, and one that speaks volumes not only about her songwriting but also her character. 

In fact, this empathetic personality also surfaces on some of her more political tracks. Crookes isn't afraid to critique in her uniquely Crookesian confidence, especially on 'Kingdom'. For the South Londoner of Irish and Bangladeshi heritage, evaluating what home means to her—and what she means to home—is no mean feat. But it's on the track 'Feet Don't Fail Me Now' where Crookes combines excellent songwriting with an insanely catchy verse. She casts her eye onto the opposing side, putting her feet in the shoes of someone more complicit than her: "I've been posing with red skies/Retweeting picket signs/Put my name on petitions but I won't change my mind". Whilst I do think she could have pushed the satire more in the verses, I also appreciate that Crookes is trying to empathise, rather than villainise, and ultimately form a call to action. 

Occasionally, there are some production misfires in the tracklist. Whilst the imagery and melody of '19th Floor' is absolutely standout, the trip-hop inspired mixing muddies Crookes' voice to the point where her words are unintelligible and tires out the ears. Additionally, there are a plethora of piano ballads on the record, and tracks like 'Theek Ache' are a little too plain for my taste, despite Crookes' gorgeous voice. 

Regardless, Skin is a triumph for Joy Crookes, who pulls from a wide variety of influences and stories to bring an album that indicates a lot of potential. She's established a strong musical identity, an introspective yet witty voice, and some important messages. Although the energy isn't evenly sustained across the record, there are a lot of individual tracks that demonstrate that you should look forward to the rest of Crookes' output. 

Skin arrives 15 October.

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Photo: Press