Album Review: Jessie J – Who You Are (Island)
Her profile is soaring, but the newest Queen of Pop™ seems to be struggling to make her voice heard
Sure, she’s The Sound Of 2011. But for which country? Nothing on ‘Who You Are’ links Jessie to being English – apart from her occasional spoken segments, and a fondness for the word ‘mandem’. Even live track ‘Big White Room’, which showcases her undeniably potent voice, falls flat due to mid-song chattering. This is an album of singles for other artists. There’s Rihanna Jessie (‘Do It...’), Perry Jessie (‘Abracadabra’), Pixie Jessie (‘Mamma Knows Best’), Ellie Jessie ('Big White Room'). Given Jessie’s songwriter past, an identity crisis was always a risk. But, let’s take her new transatlanticism as a moot point, and move on.
Thematically, ‘Who You Are’ sticks to Sesame Street topics such as staying true to who you are and following your dream. Like a big singing version of that inspirational cat poster, Jessie veers between stage school confidence and motivational speaker. The reggae-tinged ‘Stand Up’ warns that “If you don’t reach for the moon then you can’t follow the stars”, while ‘Rainbow’’s cutting social commentary begins “He grew up in the city/Had a lot of money/ Sponging off his daddy all the time”, before offering the staggering conclusion that “What I’m saying is that we’re all alive”.
Weirdest of all, though, is that no matter how much Jessie J sings about being herself, we don’t really ever get a sense of who, or what, that is. Even on personal tracks like ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, everything’s a bit vague. “When I’m nervous, I have this thing where I talk too much”, she warbles. ‘Who’s Laughing Now’ offers a little insight, but it’s via her grind and career rather than who Jessie actually is. Incidentally, it also has one of the best lines on the album: “Oh Jessie I saw you on YouTube/I tagged us in photos from when we was at school”.
It’s cheeky, relevant, and fresh. It’s everything Jessie’s been pegged to be. Elsewhere, the Dr Luke-produced ‘Abracadabra’ sounds like ‘Teenage Dream’ covered by ‘Million Dollar Bill’-era Whitney. It’s brilliant. But unfortunately it’s a flash that’s shortly over. The release of ‘Who You Are’ was brought forward a month, in response to popular demand. If only Island had paused and allowed Jessie to answer the begged question of the album’s title for herself.
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