The most striking moment on Joss Stone’s second album arrives just over halfway through. ”I keep our song on repeat on my iPod, even when I sleep,” she sings, in the same husky, baby-lion growl heard on last year’s The Soul Sessions. What’s remarkable about the line isn’t merely that it’s a blatant product plug. It’s that it also constitutes the one time on the disc when Stone sounds like an actual, real-world teenager, as opposed to the least fun adolescent in the history of civilization.
As on the somewhat spunkier Sessions, the soul-worshipping young Brit is surrounded by a coterie of R&B greats; holdovers Betty Wright and guitarist Little Beaver are joined this time by Chic commander Nile Rodgers, the great Philly soul arranger Thom Bell, and Motown songwriting legend Lamont Dozier. But is their presence meant to ignite the music — or simply bolster Stone’s credibility? Save for a mild foray into reggae and a stab at power balladry, the tracks are monotonously midtempo, supper-club soul. The music is so tasteful and refined that its one attempt at sauciness, ”Don’t Cha Wanna Ride,” in which Stone (who cowrote many of the songs) compares herself to a juiced-up car, should be parked in the lingerie section of a department store.
Even during those moments when the grooves lighten up, Stone drags them down with her mannered delivery, which has as many tics as an American Idol contestant’s — melisma in particular — but wraps them in a veneer of supposed grit and authenticity. (She’s Mariah with less histrionics, a funkier wardrobe, and a hipper record collection.) In ”Right to Be Wrong,” a weirdly defensive song given Stone’s out-of-the-gate success, she protests, ”I might be singing out of key/But it sure feels good to me.” Yet she’s the furthest thing from a wildly uninhibited belter. Maybe that’s why Stone isn’t very convincing, in ”You Had Me,” as a put-upon woman who casts off her drinking, gold-digging, coke-snorting scrub. She’s 17 going on 47.
Of course, Stone is part of a long-standing tradition of young ‘uns acting like old farts that dates back to Mark Knopfler, was proudly carried on by Lenny Kravitz and the Black Crowes, and now includes Norah Jones and Alicia Keys. Despite their premature fuddy-duddiness, some of those musicians have managed to make fine music. Perhaps Stone will as well, someday. Right now, though, she sounds like something created in a lab for concerned adults who want to be reassured that their kids aren’t listening to rap or metal or tattooing their bodies — that they are, in fact, just like their parents. She’s the ultimate in reactionary pop. After I listened to one numbing song after another on Mind, Body & Soul, my own reaction was to want to curl up with the crass, calculated — and far more teen-genuine — bombast of an Avril Lavigne album.