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
[b]‘Do It Like A Dude’[/b] posited [a]Jessie J[/a] as a rival to the international hard-hitters – a new [a]Lady Gaga[/a], an equally fearless [a]Rihanna[/a]. With over a million YouTube views, and selling over 30,000 copies, it was a brash, bolshy entrance. Follow-up single [b]‘Price Tag’[/b] nabbed her a UK Number One. So, stomp, stomp she’s arrived. Or has she?
Sure, she’s The Sound Of 2011. But for which country? Nothing on [b]‘Who You Are’[/b] links Jessie to being English – apart from her occasional spoken segments, and a fondness for the word ‘mandem’. Even live track [b]‘Big White Room’[/b], 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 ([b]‘Do It…’[/b]), Perry Jessie ([b]‘Abracadabra’[/b]), Pixie Jessie ([b]‘Mamma Knows Best’[/b]), Ellie Jessie ([b]’Big White Room'[/b]). 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, [b]‘Who You Are’[/b] sticks to [i]Sesame Street[/i] 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 [b]‘Stand Up’[/b] warns that “[i]If you don’t reach for the moon then you can’t follow the stars[/i]”, while [b]‘Rainbow’[/b]’s cutting social commentary begins “[i]He grew up in the city/Had a lot of money/ Sponging off his daddy all the time[/i]”, before offering the staggering conclusion that “[i]What I’m saying is that we’re all alive[/i]”.
Weirdest of all, though, is that no matter how much [a]Jessie J[/a] sings about being herself, we don’t really ever get a sense of who, or what, that is. Even on personal tracks like [a]‘Nobody’s Perfect’[/a], everything’s a bit vague. “[i]When I’m nervous, I have this thing where I talk too much[/i]”, she warbles. [b]‘Who’s Laughing Now’[/b] 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: “[i]Oh Jessie I saw you on YouTube/I tagged us in photos from when we was at school[/i]”.
It’s cheeky, relevant, and fresh. It’s everything Jessie’s been pegged to be. Elsewhere, the Dr Luke-produced [b]‘Abracadabra’[/b] sounds like [b]‘Teenage Dream’[/b] covered by [b]‘Million Dollar Bill’[/b]-era Whitney. It’s brilliant. But unfortunately it’s a flash that’s shortly over. The release of [b]‘Who You Are’[/b] 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.