Jessie J would like to have it both ways, but ends up with neither. The 23-year old British singer songwriter (who’s openly bisexual, take that Middle America) has her fingers in so many pies on debut album Who You Are that she never has the balance, restraint or taste to answer her own interrogative.
Who You Are
If time is forgiving and has a sense of humor to match, this album has the fate of a cult classic. It’s shambolic pop at best and earnestly chart-targeted platitudes from a cloying, spoiled girl at worst. It’s practically thrilling in its consistent crash-n-burn. Who You Are gives the impression that little gold-hearted Jessie’s lying to herself in new and exciting ways on every tune.
It’s perfunctory to praise her voice in the same way that Katy Perry and Gaga deserve it; she’s got range and heft, but hoo boy, she should have listened to Janet.
Because the most incredible (and by that I mean unbelievable) is Jessie’s lack or sheer disregard of control. Every single song is manhandled by Jessie’s vocal gymnastics for vocal gymnastics’ sake. Jessie transcends trying too hard — it’s in her bloodstream. Every single space, every chorus, intro, outro, ballad, bridge and banger has more riffs than Slayer. One comes to love the silence in between tracks, as they are your only refuge from the sound of a thousand American Idol auditions adopting Christina Aguilera’s National Anthem at Super Bowl XLV as holy word.
Jessie’s lack of character is colored in with songs that everyone else has done better. So she plays ketchup, laying it on as thick as possible to obscure the lack of any original flavor. On “Do It Like A Dude” she’s all posture, no swag; opting to “do it like a brotha / do it like a dude / grab my crotch / wear my hat low like you” mistaking aggression for empowerment. She calls B.O.B. in for a hit single on “Price Tag,” a tailor-made recession four chord like “Halo” or ”Bleeding Love,” proclaiming “it’s not about the money, we don’t need your money / we just wanna make the world dance / forget about the price tag.” It’s $1.29 on iTunes. “Abracadabra” is Dr. Luke on jury duty, trying “Teenage Dream” on for a palette swap, “Mamma Knows Best” dresses retro-soul with tedium, written-in-the-hospital-acoustic “Big White Room” would like to be Tracy Chapman but comes off Adam Sandler.
Writhing around this playpen is talent strangled by apprehension, scraping the walls of sincerity as if posing for a picture every minute. She says she can “do it all.” She can’t do any of it. Chatting with The Daily Mail a month ago, Jessie claimed “I’m not afraid to say I’m very comfortable with who I am,” which is fine, darling, we believe you. But show and tell is a two-part process.