Feelings is a concept album based on a contemporary pop/rock musical that aims to address mental health issues to help de-stigmatise them. The songs (written by Jon Worthy with additional lyrics by Emily Henry) are based on a script by Elena C. Lockleis. Elena’s script tells the moving story about a college senior called Jane who is struggling with such severe depression that she intends to take her own life before reaching graduation. But she begins to fall in love with a vibrant classmate called Naomi and when her feelings are reciprocated she battles whether it’s worth staying alive for love.
The album opens with Inner Dialogue, sung beautifully by Jessica Bell. This is sung from the perspective of the character Jane, who depicts her mental health struggles with depression and anxiety: “Doctor says take the pill, it will clear your mind, it will make you well….the problem is I’m not fixable…”. Musically, it’s a sophisticated pop/rock ballad with a powerful vocal melody that brought to mind Alanis Morrissette and Taylor Swift at their most emotive. It sets the scene for the rest of the drama to unfold perfectly.
Second song 11.11 is about Jane meeting Naomi who instantly makes a strong impression on her. This track is an upbeat and touching expression of how quickly feelings can develop upon meeting that intended someone, with Jessica Bell delivering a feisty and passionate lead vocal.
The first verse depicts Jane as a young girl at school, realising she’s different and has an attraction to other girls. This helps us understand the impact of meeting Naomi, and the song captures the nervousness and joy of finding someone special. Musically, it’s a very effective acoustic pop song but with a lyrical edge that brought to mind an artist like Avril Lavigne or the group 4 Non Blondes. The infectious chorus lands in the memory on first listen especially the great hook, “I just wanna know everything about you”.
Third song Strawberry Muffins is a very sweet duet between the two characters Jane and Naomi, performed by Natalie Masini and Jessica Bell. It depicts the development of their relationship and their mutual bonding over making strawberry muffins is a lovely narrative touch. The two voices complement each other well and come together in harmony towards the end, the highlight of a very fine song.
Lately is another emotionally moving song as Jane finds she’s unable to tell her about the depth of her emotional problems. She feels she has to sabotage the relationship so that Naomi isn’t brought down with her, as Jane feels she’s “going under”. This is set to a very well written pop rock backing, the music reflecting the emotional anguish of the music with understated elegance.
Fortunately, these feelings are overcome and Tell Me A Secret finds the two lovers expressing their vulnerability to each other and getting closer through sharing deeper feelings and intimate secrets. It’s again a duet sung by Natalie Masini and Jessica Bell, this one a very upbeat pop track that would work well on radio (to promote the musical, perhaps). It’s catchy chorus is one of the most memorable and the positive vibe acts as the perfect contrast to the beautiful but melancholy song that preceded it.
But unfortunately, as Better To Leave poignantly depicts, the demons return to Jane and once again she pushes Naomi away again without explaining the root cause of the situation. It’s a solemn acoustic ballad mostly sung by Jessica Bell, the lyrics veering from deeply troubled (“I have so much darkness swirling in my mind ”) to the bittersweet yet touching chorus refrain, “You taste like strawberries, but you’re too sweet for me”.
Masini appears as Naomi towards the end, pleading for an explanation for her behaviour: “What has changed so quick to say we’re over….why are you acting this way, why can’t you love me?”.
This extends into the next song In Between, where the relationship in caught in flux, neither ending or progressing, because of Jane’s difficulties with being completely honest with Naomi about her depression and suicidal feelings.
The following Just Wanna is told from Jane’s private perspective as she tries to process her complicated feelings, not want to have to expose Naomi to the “dark thoughts” that go through her “broken mind”. This articulate depiction of someone dealing with deep depression and how it affects their closes relationships is wonderfully well done, both musically and lyrically.
This is taken to new artistic heights by the delicate beauty of 3 Words, a heartfelt expression of love between two women. In a minor key, the song is only based around three or four piano chords akin to Coldplay. The intimate lead vocals and compelling narrative sustain the listener’s interest, the words full of emotional honesty: “To say I’m fine would be such a lie but I love you….”. Natalie Masini counterpoints Jessica Bell’s voice perfectly as Naomi shows tenderness and understanding towards Jane as she gradually opens up.
Overdrive takes us into different pastures musically, an electro pop track full of inventive percussion and musical nuance (such as the infectious low end acoustic guitar motif) plus a plethora of clever production effects. It’s another reflective and sad song, with Jane feeling overwhelmed by her emotional situation and deciding that it’s best to end the relationship with Naomi.
This feeling continues with the heartbreaking To You I Say, where Jane has effectively given up all hope on her relationship with Naomi and even her struggle with life itself, encapsulated by the haunting refrain, “This is the end…”. The penultimate track Some Days is performed by Natalie Masini, the lyrics essentially a plea for a kinder world and for people to show more understanding towards each other. The simple but very touching chorus refrain, “I need some kindness in my life” feels like a touchstone for the whole story.
The album concludes in dramatic fashion not with a song but with a spoken monologue from the perspective of Jane. While the listener awaits the conclusion of this gripping love story, the monologue opens in harrowing fashion: “The morning after I tried to kill myself a flickering street lamp was filling in for the sun...”. But, fortunately, the suicide attempt turns out to be unsuccessful and the monologue depicts Jane heading for Naomi’s house, who comforts her and promises to assist her in getting the help she needs. And so the album ends on an ebullient and inspiring note: “That’s why I’m here, I’m finding more fight, winning more battles, I’m doing my best to not lose the reminder that the small steps count too….”.
Overall, this concept album is a unique work of art that takes themes of the timeless human condition and expresses it through a very modern lens. It deals with classic artistic themes such as love and trust but addresses them in a way that combines with contemporary concerns such as maintaining mental health, dealing with depression and coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation. The result is a powerful collection of songs by Jon Worthy, beautifully performed by Jessica Bell and Natalie Masini, which I hope will be developed and adapted into a successful musical. As it is, Feelings works as a superb concept album which will bring inspiration and comfort to those that hear it.
VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10
Listen to Feelings HERE