Album: Jessie J, Who You Are (Island)
Friday 25 February 2011
For Jessie J, becoming an overnight success took some six years of preparation and hard work as a songwriter before she was able to establish herself as a performer in her own right, cranking out songs for the likes of Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys.
That's the sort of heavyweight clientele that helped build the formidable momentum driving Jessie's hype, but it also indicates the distinctly transatlantic nature of her style.
Male R&B stars such as Tinie, Tinchy and Dizzee may be able to carve out their own homegrown niches, but as often before, female performers in the same field still seem to require the validation and assistance of US backroom teams – in Jessie's case, the likes of Warren "Oak" Felder, Toby Gadd, and Lukasz "Dr Luke" Gottwald. The latter is responsible for the recent number one single "Price Tag", in which Jessie protests her disdain for money in the face of her desire to make the world dance – a noble aspiration, though not entirely untainted by a certain disingenuousness, one imagines. But she harmonises piquantly with herself over the languid guitar groove, and B.o.B's rap is pleasingly modest enough, too.
The same can't really be said of such tracks as "Casualty Of Love" and "Rainbow", however, both singularly unimpressive songs tricked out with the showy vocal bling favoured by R&B divas as a substitute for genuine soul.
"Rainbow" is one of several cases where Jessie's taste for feelgood cliché gets the better of her: comparing the spendthrift life of a privileged rich kid with the plight of the inner-city poor, she somehow reaches the demonstrably nonsensical conclusion that "We're all alike". Likewise, "Stand Up" sinks under a tsunami of positive-thinking blather – you're only as old as you feel, release your inner child, live life like every day's your last – en route to the conclusion that we should "strive to be happy, and live to believe", perhaps the vaguest advice ever offered on disc.
Elsewhere, she turns her attentions to such familiar R&B fare as breaking up ("I Need This"), maternal admiration ("Mama Knows Best") and regret over past indiscretions ("Nobody's Perfect"), the latter featuring her vocal lines layered across each other to the point of overkill.
The most impressive use of her singing skills comes on the restrained ballad "Big White Room", a live recording on which her extemporisations and vocal flourishes break the lyric down to a series of stuttered phrases, before smoothly picking up the slack.
But for sheer enjoyment, there's no beating the two tracks produced by Parker & James, The Invisible Men, the assertive hit "Do It Like a Dude" and "Who's Laughing Now", whose lithe, funky groove carries her dismissal of the schoolyard bullies who "dragged [her] spirit down" but wanted to become friends when she was touched by fame. "Thank you for the pain," she sings, "It helped me raise my game".
DOWNLOAD THIS Do It Like a Dude; Who's Laughing Now; Big White Room
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