“I’m not a saint, no, not at all,” pop singer Jessie J sings on “Nobody’s Perfect,” a track off her debut album, Who You Are. While her looks and pop label may suggest an edgier Britney Spears, or even a Lady Gaga or Pink, Jessie J demonstrates unique talent and promise. The British-born singer’s new release effectively showcases her powerful, emotionally evocative voice, suggesting deeper reflection than one might expect from a dance/pop disc.
Jessie J’s Who You Are represents her first effort as a solo performer. Previously she toured with such artists as Macy Gray, Chris Brown, Jools Holland, and Cyndi Lauper. She then stretched her muscles as a songwriter, penning songs for Brown and Miley Cyrus (“Party in the USA”). After scoring a major-label contract, she recorded this debut, a satisfying mixture of pop, hip hop, R&B, and rock.
Who You Are contains radio-friendly singles such as “Price Tag,” featuring rapper B.o.B., and the raunchy “Do It Like A Dude.” While these songs may earn her airplay, it’s on the ballads and bluesier tracks where she shines. “Casualty of Love” lets Jessie J growl and strut her way through an R&B slow jam, singing such lines as, “I will go down to the last round,” and, “So I’ll stand up tall and baby if I fall/Then I’ll go down as a casualty of love,” with conviction. While the track recalls some of Beyonce’s feistier ballads, Jessie J injects the song with some smooth 1970′s soul.
A fascinating change of pace, “Big White Room” features Jessie J performing live, accompanied by solely an acoustic guitar. While the song’s quiet tone suggests folk, her voice recalls the dynamism of a gospel singer. While the lyrics may not be particularly challenging (the refrain, “I’m going crazy, I’m losing my mind/I’m going crazy, in this big white room of mine,” comprises many of the verses), her emotional, tear-the-roof-off vocals keep the listener fascinated. No auto-tuning or other studio trickery is necessary–this artist is the real deal.
One track that has not been released as a single–and should be–is “Abracadabra” (not to be confused with the Steve Miller Band classic). The tune possesses all the qualities a good pop song should have–an irresistible beat, a memorable chorus, and a joyful singing performance. Younger and more seasoned fans can agree on its funky, good-time vibes. Sounding like a song left off of Robin Thicke’s Something Else album, the danceable grooves make for a perfect summertime hit.
Those who prefer thumping, hip-hop influenced beats will like “Who’s Laughing Now,” a sassy club thumper. Displaying some rapping skills that recall Lady Sovereign, she confidently rides the bass-driven rhythm with her powerful voice. A slightly biographical track, “Who’s Laughing Now” addresses critics who doubted her talent. “‘Hey Jessica, you’re so funny/You’ve got teeth just like Bugs Bunny,” she sings, describing childhood taunting. Her booming voice illustrates how she clearly overcame past slights to become a promising talent.
“Mamma Knows Best,” a finger-popping combination of soul and rock, shows that Jessie J can sing the blues effectively too. Showing poise beyond her years, her voice is front and center, with the hard-swinging band adding grit to her performance. Her powerful yet appropriate restraint–she never oversings on the track–outshines Christina Aguilera.
Jessie J certainly can deliver naughty tracks like “Do It Like A Dude” or hip hop pounders like “Rainbow,” a very Beyonce-influenced tune. But it’s her explorations of blues and soul, among other genres, that distinguishes her from the other music divas proliferating the charts today.
In the aforementioned “Who’s Laughing Now,” Jessie J delivers a message to her past critics: “But thank you for the pain/It made me raise my game.” The surprisingly enjoyable Who You Are proves this point, as her memorable voice and ability to span several genres suggest an artist who is already at the top of her game.