To be fair, Down To Earth is a little more varied than you might think. 'How Would You Like It' features some unexpected bursts of rock guitar, 'Crazy' meshes banjo riffs with funk rhythms, and the title track has a vaguely Middle Eastern vibe. Trouble is, these kooky touches are little more than window dressing on songs that stick to the middle of the road as rigidly as a pensioner pootling down the motorway to Eastbourne. Only 'Aciiid!', on which Jem morphs into a not entirely convincing dance diva, is evidence of anything approaching a risk.
The Welsh songbird's cause isn't helped by her lyrics, which touch upon themes as weighty as discrimination and post-9/11 grief, but are generally content to wallow in banal platitudes. "Nothing can compare to deserving your dream." "You can be happy but you must believe it." "Don't forget how lucky you are darling - use it to connect with everyone." Listening to Down To Earth can often feel like flicking through a ropey 1990s self-help manual.
Truth be told, it feels mean-spirited to criticise this relentlessly pleasant record, but the problem with Jem's songs is that they just aren't very memorable. There are some decent moments here - lead single 'It's Amazing' is well-crafted, 'I Always Knew' has some much-needed spunk to it - but much of Down To Earth is the pop equivalent of a plug-in air freshener: fine while it's on, but it doesn't really linger. "If you're too nice, you lose," Jem sings at one point. If only she'd listened to her own advice.
> Click here to read our recent interview with Jem