Jessie J - Who You Are
With all the press coverage currently surrounding Jessie J, you’d be forgiven for thinking she was already two or three albums into a glittering career. It’s easy to forget that Who You Are is her first effort so let's take an objective step back and view it as such. As far as debut albums go, Who You Are is not flawless, but it’s still an impressive calling card and a more than solid stepping stone for JJ to build upon.
For starters, one thing in its favour is that it’s never less than listenable; the 50 minutes run time simply flying by, and Jessie's characteristic vocals preventing the potentially maudlin romantic efforts ‘Casualty Of Love’ and ‘L.O.V.E.’ from being a drag. Things are also helped by the variety of styles on offer, from the r’n’b vibes of opener ‘Price Tag’ to the jazz funk of ‘Mamma Knows Best’ and even an 80s soft rock effort in the shape of ‘I Need This’. Some experiments work better than others: ‘Abracadabra’ is a touch bland in a generic, mainstream manner – but the overall diversity means boredom never sets in; even if one track doesn’t immediately grab your attention, you can guarantee another will be along shortly that will.
For some this scattershot approach - similar to a comedian that rattles through punch lines in the hope that one sticks - will be a negative but the song writing is generally strong. Themes are revisited throughout, especially the idea of believing in yourself and respecting others, and even if sometimes they’re delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer – “We’re the colours of the rainbow / Let’s share our pot of gold” on ‘Rainbow’ – it does at least give the album a collective voice. Sometimes subtlety isn’t the best approach: the most affecting track on the album is ‘Who You Are’ which wears its emotions on its sleeve – “It’s okay not to be okay / Sometimes it’s hard to follow your heart / But tears don’t mean you’re losing, everybody’s bruising / Just be true to who you are”.
If anything lets the album down, it’s the production as, at times, it feels far too polished, robbing it of its most effective weapon: Jessie’s voice. It’s telling that the early standout is the astonishing live version of ‘Big White Room’ (filmed at the Scala show that we caught last month) where the focus is just on her voice and even on this recording, it still feels too big for your speakers. The one track that particularly suffers is ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ where her impassioned vocal – “I hate that I let you down and I feel so bad about it / I guess karma comes back around cause now I’m the one that’s hurting” – feels a touch neutered, which is a shame because otherwise it’s a powerhouse of a track.
Much has already been said about ‘Do It Like A Dude’ with some going with its tongue-in-cheek nature and others just being put off by the dirty r’n’b edge, but it’s nowhere near the album’s most divisive track. That honour belongs to ‘Who’s Laughing Now’ and we can guarantee that there will be just as many people who fall in love with the childish and playful nature of the track (essentially is Jessie flipping the bird to everyone who doubted her), as there will be people who get turned off or annoyed by the vocal quirks. For the record, we’re in the former category but while she doesn’t have Marina levels of quirks, she certainly isn’t afraid to be unconventional - which could well be a stumbling block for others.
Still, if people are keen to instantly judge Jessie J on the basis of ‘Do It Like A Dude’ without giving Who You Are a spin, then it’ll be their loss as there’s no doubt it establishes her as one of the UK’s most original pop artists. Without all the pre-hype, this is an album likely to have seen her proclaimed the next big thing so, arguably, isn’t that job well done?