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Review: Joy Crookes - Skin

The road to healing: Joy Crookes shares all in her magnificent debut album.

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Image Credit: Sony Music Entertainment UK

Trigger Warning: Discussion of sxual ault and sucide**

Joy Crookes has had a steady rise to fame, most prominently emerging on the British music scene when she was nominated in 2020 for the Rising Star Brit award. Crookes has a long list of releases (including 3 Extended Plays) predating her long-awaited 2021 full-length debut, Skin. At the age of just 23, her lyrical ability shines on Skin, (and) Joy’s storytelling resonates in a way that is nothing short of extraordinary and has rightly garnered much critical acclaim. Crookes takes her listener on a rollercoaster with her mature, powerful yet heart-wrenching compositions, of which this album has plenty.

Crookes’ heritage runs as a core motif in Skin; as a British-Irish-Bangladeshi woman, her truth is engrained within the lyrics in songs such as the political jibe ‘Kingdom,’ the feminist number ‘Power’ and her affectionate ode to her grandmother’s London flat - ‘19th Floor’. Joy’s multiplicity of identities is explored throughout the album as she laments the deeply problematic aspects of her daily life that she is forced to endure as a woman of colour from South London, such as oppressive gender roles, racism, and classism.

The most surprisingly poetic song in the album – ‘Unlearn You’ – is a beautiful, yet deeply uncomfortable song details her experience of sexual assault at a young age. Crookes does not romanticise the experience, but we cannot help but be reminded of her childish innocence with the soft melodies and gentle vocals.  As we follow her back to her revisiting trauma in ‘Unlearn You’, a song she described herself as “one of the hardest songs I’ve ever written”, it’s hard not to feel sincere sadness. Her honesty is palpable in this song, and it is difficult not to be moved by the rawness with which Joy shares her trauma. Her desperation to move past the assault is felt most deeply at the song’s conclusion, when she almost cries in exasperation “can I unlearn you?” one final time.

In an upbeat turn, ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me Now’, laced with funky guitar riffs, is an empowering anthem that you cannot help but dance to. Crookes’ powerful, velvety vocals typify her ‘conversational soul’ sound (as labelled such by Dazed Magazine) and nowhere in Skin is this better presented than in this soulful, political call-to-arms. Writing in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, Crookes ironically sings the song from the perspective of those of us who cower from political action due to fear: whether that be cancel culture or those who oppose us. In an interview with Genius, Joy explains “I hope [Feet Don’t Fail Me Now] can be a call to action,” proving herself as always bold and never shying away from politically sensitive topics in her craft.

The emotive power of the eponymous ‘Skin’ is a highlight, a song which to Crookes is ‘the most important to me’ on the album, where Joy gives us a stripped back version of herself. Mental health is another difficult topic that Crookes takes on in this album, but she does so with sensitivity and from the perspective of a loving friend. Pleading, begging with her loved one not to take their own life, Crookes is at her most selfless in this beautiful ballad. The thrust of the piano carries Crookes’ voice through this song, that feels as if she is contemplating the worst possible scenario for her addressee. “You’ve got the life worth living”, she urges, as the piano fades and we are left contemplating Crookes’ powerful message.

These are just some standouts from the album. The entirety of Skin is highly recommended by us to listen through as it’s an experience in itself; it is vibrant, sarcastic, deeply emotional, and full of frustration all at once. We had the privilege of seeing Joy perform Skin live and can confidently say that she is one to watch. Joy is a soulful, yet extremely unique, musician whose sound is growing more and more distinguishable as she produces new material (and to have a ‘sound’ by her debut is impressive in itself). Overall, the album is a well-crafted emotional rollercoaster - no less than five years in the making - and the careful dedication she has clearly put into her work does not go unnoticed. We look forward to seeing what she does next!

Rating: 8/10.

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