Some critics of Joss Stone are a bit like the doctor in Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides.
Some critics of Joss Stone are a bit like the doctor in Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. After the youngest sister slashes her wrists, he glibly offers: "What are you doing here, little girl? You're not old enough to know how bad life gets.'' To which she curtly replies: "Obviously, doctor, you've never been a 13-year-old girl.'' Indeed, as the veteran diva Angie Stone, who provided backing vocals on her namesake's multimillion-selling debut mini-LP, The Soul Sessions, acidly put it, the teenage singing sensation has been "forced to sing like a 30-year-old, when she's probably still a virgin." Ouch.
But being too young to sing the blues isn't the only criticism that's been levelled at the 17-year-old prodigy. She's also been accused of being too "packaged''; even, in some quarters, for being too, ostensibly, "authentic''. She's also been nominated for the Mercury Music prize after recording not an album of her own material, but an album of covers, and been nominated for a Music of Black Origin award, despite being as white as Eminem.
It's not surprising, then, that the first track on her new album, Mind, Body & Soul, is a call to arms entitled "Right to be Wrong'', one of seven new songs performed tonight - her first major performance since wowing the crowds at Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage in July. It's a song that reads as a fresh statement of intent, full of self-affirming statements such as "Got a mind of my own/ So just leave me alone", "Don't smother me with negativity", and talk of a personal "vision''.
Live, Stone cuts too callow a stage presence - too much of a diffident Lolita to be a true diva yet - but the new songs, on which she shares co-writing credentials with the likes of Lamont Dozier and the former Portishead frontwoman Beth Gibbons, are good: sassy, funky and full of post-Tweenie confusion. The more vulnerable, retro-soul phrasings of The Soul Sessions have been replaced with a serious taste for upbeat urban funk, R&B, even reggae.
Hence, "Jet Lag" is a lolloping ode to romantic infatuation, and the new single "You Had Me'' is its caustic, Beyoncé-lite flip-side, a strutting riposte to indolent blokedom. "Less Is More" has a woozy, poppy Caribbean lilt, and "Don't You Wanna Ride'', with its Young-Holt Unlimited backbeat, is as infectious as a schoolgirl ringtone. The highlight this evening, however, is "Spoiled'', co-penned by Dozier, the legendary Motown songwriter (Stone is now dating his son, Beau), which is given the full power of her ripe larynx. And what a larynx: husky, strong, clear and agile.
There's little doubt that Stone has a real feel for the flushed joy of singing soul, but she lacks the ballsy charisma of, say, Amy Winehouse, and her reinvention as a white Beverley Knight comes across as much more convincing on record. Her backing band here also lacked the power of the premier-league session musicians she has behind her on her studio material. But, as her lyrics to "Right to be Wrong'' run: "My mistakes will make me strong/ I'm on a mission''. This is just the start.Reuse content