Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Jessie J - Who You Are (Island)

Jessica Cornish, before even releasing one lone song, has built up quite the track record. Six years in development, an education courtesy of the Brit School, an impressive catalogue as songwriter, no less than half a dozen high-profile tour support slots, and winner of both the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll and the Brits Critics Choice Award. No pressure.

And while Jessie J has certainly lived up to the buzz courtesy of No. 1 single and ohrwurm du jour Price Tag, there remains some serious expectation of debut album Who You Are. Unfortunately, as an entity, it lurks far too close to the middle of the road to even think about reaching the bar it’s been set.

When Jessie J gets it right, she does so with serious fervour: Nobody’s Perfect, while still edgy, is laden with sentiment and character, and the title track, for its slight drippiness, conveys its message with conviction. But it’s hard for these to stand out amongst a sea of parallel midtempo numbers, most of which melt into the next without leaving any kind of a mark.

The dire, discharge-caked skankfest of Do It Like A Dude, for all its shortcomings, at least unveils something bold and different. There's little else on Who You Are that even attempts such extremes, unless you count the exasperating stutter trick she wheels out far too often. And while Jessie J clearly has plenty to say, a disproportionately large amount of Who You Are is all shout-outs to past haters and "look-at-me-now" sentiments. There's an unpleasant arrogance attached, as though success – and on a pretty grand scale, no less – was always a given.

A live version of Big White Room demonstrates some incredible vocals, but for the most part, Jessie J sounds frighteningly close to Alesha Dixon. Not a bad thing in our books, but let's examine on paper: one is a Brit-winning, megahyped, big-money signing touted as the future of UK music; the other is a reality judge struggling to land a Top 40 hit. The gap should really be wider.

On one hand, Who You Are isn't worth the hype piled upon it. But on the other, it could be argued that the hype is the only reason people are hearing it. Jessie J, with little effort, managed to establish herself as an act to get very, very excited about. On the basis of Who You Are, music fans will be waiting until album two for that anticipation to be fulfilled.

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