Up until recently, Joy Crookes might not necessarily be a name that the casual chart listener might know. For aficionados of soul and R&B, they might be a tad more familiar with the twenty-three year old’s gradual emerge on the scene. Her first EP, Influence, came out in 2017, followed by two more EPs in 2019, Reminiscence and Perception, which finally led to a 2020 Brit Award Rising Star nomination.
Now, she’s finally given us a full LP titled Skin, so named for the way that the album reflects on her life, experiences and identity. Four singles have preceded the album’s release: ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’, ‘Skin’, ‘When You Were Mine’ and ‘Trouble’, all also released on her Trouble 2021 EP. All four songs are tinged with the singer’s trademark introspection and groove, as well as direct references to her youth in South London.
Besides the album’s singles, the B-sides on the album are hauntingly beautiful, with tracks like ‘19th Floor’, ‘To Lose Someone’ and ‘Power’ all slower ballads that give space for Crookes’ lyrics to breathe and resonate with the listener. One would do her music a disservice to sleep on the instrumentation of each track, which is crafted with precision to provide a great bedrock to her voice. It’s an album that will translate well to live performances, and one might imagine that performance of any of these songs will sound almost the same when performed with a live band. As occurs throughout the entire album, none of the tracks are overproduced: her voice and lyricism are her greatest assets and with both of these given space to shine, Crookes is allowed to be presented at her best. Anyone who does not feel a rollercoaster of pain, catharsis and empathy at Crookes’ speaking of her heritage in ‘Power’ surely does not have a heart:
Yellow polka dot burkini
That they stole off her body that day
If you really want to free me
Tell my mummy that she’s pretty
Melanin is not your enemy
The more upbeat songs are a different experience altogether, even though they all follow the same sonic thread of the album. In ‘Wild Jasmine’ and ‘Kingdom’ you can hear clear twinges of the Brit in Crookes’, with ‘Kingdom’ peppered with musical hints of the punk-rock scene that means the song could just as easily have been written two decades ago. Yet overall, higher energy songs are few in the album, with the record in general leaning towards the slower, more mellow side. Crookes’ clearly wants us to spend time with each track fully and even older, more upbeat tracks of hers from previous records such as ‘Hurts’ or ‘Darkest Hours’ are never overly-frenetic either. As far as her sound goes, it’s clear that Crookes’ knows who she is and how she wants people to feel what she feels.
Crookes’ commentary on her life and experiences through the gentler cushion of her soundscape makes every message a little more heartbreaking, a little more tender, a little more like we are sitting next to her on the couch, hearing her a friend unburden her experiences. With a voice that can well be described as timeless, she wields it to devastating effect by conveying stories of her life that hit hard no matter the background of the listener. This is an album to laugh, cry and reminisce to, to the point where when it ends you need to take a good break before going back to relive it all again. The album was made to be listened to in order for beginning to end: we highly recommend you do so for a good few dozen listens before starting to shuffle.
Ultimately, listening to Skin is not so much a musical experience as an autobiographical and cinematic one that encourages you to lose yourself for just under 43 minutes in both Joy Crookes’ soul and, with luck, yours as well. Her ascendancy has been slow but steady since 2017, and in this debut album she’s emerged a fully-fledged butterfly, more ready than ever for the rest of the music industry to sit up and notice her as she deserves.