Monday, March 07, 2011

Album Review: Jessie J - Who You Are (4/5)

I've read it suggested that Jessie J is the British answer to Lady Gaga. If that's the case, then I'm not sure what the question is, as she doesn't sound a thing like Lady Gaga to me. More like Katy Perry perhaps or even what Natasha Bedingfield would sound like if she was still famous.

In truth, it's probably not fair to try to pigeon-hole Jessie J so quickly. After all, a lot of people really believe she's the real deal--the X Factor without the reality show, if you will. She won the BBC Sounds of 2011 poll, making her the hottest new act of the year. On her debut album, she's nicely side-stepped the current dominant international pop sound--the soulless blend of electro, pop and R&B, to give us something rather unexpected: a true mix of sounds that's surprisingly downbeat and frequently retro.

In the latter category is the rather cool "Abracadabra," a fantastic dose of tuneful '90s-style R&B scored with piano chords, some funky guitar and a toe-tapping beat. I just gave a quick listen to some En Vogue, Keith Sweat and Toni Braxton, and would love this sound to make a comeback. "Casualty of Love" also fits nicely in this groove, reaching even further to deliver a nice piece of old school R&B balladry.

Too many slow songs drag this album down though. For someone billed as pop's next big thing, they feel out of place in a landscape dominated by Dr. Luke and Max Martin's uptempo studio wizardry. "Big White Room" for example is a nice enough song, but coming after three pretty great and upbeat songs it kills the album's mood. Later in the album, too many similar slowish tracks ("L.O.V.E.", "Stand Up" and "I Need This") are a poor introduction for what is a rather decent closing number in the title track, which also sounds like it is headed to radio soon.

More contemporary sounds include the current reggae-tinged hit, "Price Tag," and "Nobody's Perfect," which showcases some predictable beats and synths, but also showcases quite a bit of personality and a voice (and British accent) that can barely be contained. It screams "future single," and at the rate she's been releasing them, I imagine we'll be waiting weeks rather than months to hear this on Radio 1.

I'm recommending this album, but with reservations. The songs I like are totally solid, but the songs I don't are a real let down. In addition to the aforementioned, I have to also single out over-the-top "Mama Knows Best," which sounds like Christina Aguilera indulging her worst impulses. And I can do without the vocal hiccups on "Rainbow," a rather grating track. But then comes the rather cool strut of "Do It Like a Dude" to restore my confidence that she may just live up to her rather deafening hype.

Best: Price Tag, Abracadabra, Do It Like a Dude, Nobody's Perfect, Casualty of Love, Who You Are

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