Joy Crookes – ‘Skin’ review: curiosity and hope amid hardship

The Bengali/Irish vocalist contemplates young adulthood, heartbreak and everything in between on this stunning debut album

Joy Crookes has been riding high for a while now. The Bengali/Irish singer-songwriter featured in the NME 100 at the start of 2020, and was nominated for the BRITs Rising Star award that same year, before a support slot for Harry Styles loomed. But then the pandemic hit, forcing Crookes to delay her plans and lock down, which helped her focus on crafting her full-length debut.

Crookes emerged from the past 18 months with the wide-ranging ‘Skin’, on which she sews together effortless progressions of R&B, modern soul, and pop styles into a masterful study of a young woman reckoning with her transition to adulthood.

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Phone calls, laughter, handclaps, chants – Crookes brings in fleeting moments of her everyday life to pull us into her world. On the candid ‘19th Floor’, she sings about growing up in London and how she has changed underneath the city lights. The details are homely and specific; she’s at her happiest when she’s “bopping down Walworth Road”, but hushed on a later line when she reflects on the passing of youth: “Strip the life out of these streets/It’s a daylight robbery/You’ll never take the London out of me”.

‘Kingdom’, a song that Crookes uploaded to Instagram after the Conservatives won the 2019 General Election, still sounds delicately despondent. She balances the political and the personal wonderfully elsewhere, too, calling out the contradictions of online activism on the soaring, brass-assisted ‘Feel Don’t Fail Me Now’.

But the most striking moments come when Crookes allows her songs to go off in unexpected directions. On the bubbly ‘Trouble’, she fuses a reggae-lite delivery with steel drums and witty production touches: “Cut deep when we play”, she sings, and on cue, two knives scratch together. ‘Wild Jasmine’, an oblique story of a romance in trouble, contains smoky echoes of ‘60s-style soul. And on ‘Unlearn You’, her vulnerabilities become more daring, too; in a single word, a barely-there whisper can soar to a deep, husky vocal.

‘Skin’ rises from the most intimate pockets of Crookes’s life: the emotional turmoil around growing up, heartbreak, forgiveness, and relationships that don’t offer the sanctuary they promise. But here, she allows herself to revel in her own possibility of healing, singing directly about her past and who she wants to become, letting her formidable voice guide the way: cool, curious, full of momentum.

Details

skin Joy Crookes album

  • Release date: October 15
  • Record label: Sony
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