Helena Jesele - Sweet Sticky Fix
The image conjured up by the inlay of Helena Jesele's debut album is what one might term 'anti-prim'. Pouting with a cig between her lips and heels in hand, Jesele rocks big hair, panda eyes and a little black dress, successfully pulling off a contemporary spin on sixties siren. As the press notes accompanying Sweet Sticky Fix declare, British-born Dubliner Jesele's efforts are aided in part by Paul O'Duffy whose last work was with Amy Winehouse on her iconic Back to Black. So, is Jesele the match of her carefully put-together cover would suggest or is she more Duffy than the late, great Amy?
Thankfully, Sweet Sticky Fix is not cloyingly sweet, choosing instead to embrace its Motown influences and throwing in a certain modern day stickiness in its depiction of modern day relationships. There is romance here but, as with the great female soul singers who prove to be her clear influences, Jesele recognises that heartbreak and a certain amount of grit are perhaps more important ingredients. So, while sunny single 'Sun is Rising' is a cathartic, blues-are-over celebration that proves the perfect Radio 2 intro and establishes her retro inspirations, the remainder of the concise ten-track listing finds more time for bluesier material.
From get-go 'Breathe in Love', Jesele is completely confident in her chanteuse role and her very capable vocal slips comfortably between breathy seductress and unbridled vamp. Similarly, the production combines elements of classic soul music and jazz in a way that many of Jesele's recent predecessors have; however, Jesele has the sense to bring it up to date and add some personality. This is no better demonstrated than on 'Girl in London', which would be just another melancholy break-up ballad if it weren't for a playfulness and mundane honesty reminiscent of Lily Allen; over a building wall of sound, Jesele croons, "I drink and I know I shouldn't dial / It's just your girl in London calling" - and, in adding some quirky character, her star really does shine.
Ultimately, the Winehouse (or should that be Ronson) effect does detract from the album in some ways. Many artists, many of them British, have in the past five years plied the '60s soul/Motown genre for an uplift in the charts - from The Noisettes and Maverick Sabre to, erm, Olly Murs. Therefore, through no fault of her own, the strings-and-brass backing here has less impact than it should have, meaning Jesele's own talents are required to do a lot of the work. Sometimes things don't click as they should, as on 'Lovesick Avenue' where Jesele sounds uncannily like Lana Del Rey delivering her usual mix of Hollywood glamour and good ol' fashioned heartbreak but over souped-up soul rather than dream-pop balladry. When it all works though, it's grand: the flirty and dirty title track, the coulda-been Skyfall pomp of 'Smash My Heart' and effective mid-tempo groove 'Angel Save Me', which features a controlled beauty of a vocal.
However, despite sharing some of the production team that made 19 such a huge hit, Jesele is not going to be ending Adele's chart reign just yet. She gives it a good go, but ten tracks feels about right for now - as if this is merely an introduction to someone who could surprise us all in a few years time. After all, Frank held back on truly definitive moments, so album number two could be something to get really excited about.