Filled with moments that bring you to your knees
In 2010 Jessie was working as a reporter for the Jewish Chronicle and providing occasional backing vocals for Jack Peñate. She wasn’t even dreaming of being a popstar. Then she guested as a vocalist on SBTRKT’s 2010 tune ‘Nervous’ and everything changed. It sounded like something different. A lyric that took control of the beat, a voice that made the back of your neck bristle.
In 2011, on Joker’s ‘The Vision’, on ‘Valentine’ with Sampha and on her own debut single ‘Strangest Feeling’, she proved it wasn’t a one-off. People started to pay attention. So the pressure is on for ‘Devotion’, her debut album. Not least because in the time it’s taken to release this album it’s become harder to get unpaid work experience at Poundland than it is to get a job as breathy post-dubstep vocalist. Mini Wares are popping up everywhere.
Like all the great British pop records of the past five years, ‘Devotion’ combines the present and the past to make a record that sounds both contemporary and timeless. Amy Winehouse paced the grim streets of Camden in Ronettes heels. Lily Allen giggled across the time warp between Notting Hill’s rocksteady past and its wideboy present. Katy B weaved the myriad mutations of ’00s underground dance music into a single night out. Now Jessie smothers the honeyed slow jams and of Neneh Cherry and SWV across crisp minimal house production from the likes of Julio Bashmore and Sampha. There result is a disconcerting combination of warmth and brutality, honesty and exclusivity. It’s as if the record was set in the girls’ toilets of an Illuminati house party.
That svelte production is offset by a more traditional romance. All these songs locate the crux of a relationship, the moments in which everything changes. In lesser hands, some of these lyrics – “You’ll be my nightlight, there when I go to sleep” from ‘Night Light’ – would be a little Smooth FM, but they’re carried by Jessie’s voice. She could make ‘Fergalicious’ sound like ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, every note tells stories of stress, fury, volatility and desire.
All of which makes for a record filled with moments that bring you to your knees. ‘110%’ pirouettes round feathered hi-hats, with Jessie’s cooing vocals (“Small steps don’t lead to your heart”) almost floating off their record. ‘Sweet Talk’ is a woozy Whitney-like ballad sung with a giddy infatuation and bitten bottom lip. ‘Still Love Me’ builds from off-cuts of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ and Jessie’s persistent whispers of “Do you still love me?” to a heartbreaking ultimatum.
Amy, Lily and Katy became massive almost by accident, making niche albums and waiting for tastes to catch up with them. After ‘Devotion’, Jessie will happily stumble into that unlikely gang of alternative British pop stars.