Review Summary: You Are Irritating.
Was Jessie J fucked from the start? Critic's Choice at December 2010's Brit Awards and winner of the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll (a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever one existed), she was destined for stardom before anybody knew the takeoff trajectory or the purpose of the mission. And then things only got worse with the absolutely killer single that was 'Price Tag', featuring (a) man of the moment, B.O.B., and bringing summer to the airwaves at least three months in advance. And to cap it all off, the pop scene of the moment has a strange and detrimental obsession with image and identity, fuelled by the antics of Lady GaGa, hence the title of Jessie's first studio album: Who You Are
. Is it really any surprise that it doesn't live up to expectations?
To give credit where credit's due, one would struggle on almost every level to call Who You Are
a lazy or complacent album; actually, it tries very hard indeed. The instrumentation is dense and unpredictable. There are songs based around a vast array of foundations, from bleeping electronics to simple guitars to strings. The rhythm section especially is unpredictable and regularly on top form, finding a sweet groove between breezy pop and poppy RnB. But that, unfortunately, is where the sweet grooves stop and something else begins. It begins
so as soon as the Essex-born singer-songwriter does some genuinely disturbing
things with her voice in second track 'Nobody's Perfect' and permeates most of the tracks which follow. It
is desperation. It is over-the-top, over-ambitious and messy. It is simply a shame.
It's a shame because it means that listening to Who You Are
is a chore, and even more disappointing because it most likely results in Jessie J's very evident potential being overshadowed by her own theatrics and stunts - particularly, but by no means limited to, her forced vocal gymnastics. The end product is a product of sorts, but it's not so much that this record sounds manufactured, because in truth it's actually quite different to a lot of the pop music on offer today. It's a pity that's because of how successfully it tries to sound obnoxious. 'Rainbow' is a shining example, like Miley Cyrus' 'Party In The USA' on steroids.
The better tracks are found wherever Jessie J follows the (relative) straight and narrow, like singles 'Do It Like A Dude' and 'Price Tag', as well as 'Who's Laughing Now?', the intro to which sounds like a Crazy Frog b-side, but which nevertheless morphs into a feisty message to her doubters. These tracks have personality that isn't awkward to digest - think Avril Lavigne's 'Girlfriend' with less eyeliner, perhaps - and that is almost incomprehensibly more enjoyable than the try-hard burlesque
of 'Mamma Knows Best' or the pandering acoustic
stylings of 'Big White Room', complete with cringe-inducing warbles that make Mariah Carey sound shy and polished with underlined applause which might as well be Jessie J herself breaking the fourth headphone to boast, "Hey. Listen. I can hit high notes live. Listen to it!"
And that's basically the problem with Who You Are
- that it tries so hard to answer the question it asks that it sounds utterly unconvincing for the majority of its runtime. If what's contained on Jessie J's debut record is
Jessie J, then Jessie J is to pop music what guitar show-offs Dragonforce are to metal: occasionally impressive but frequently unlistenable. There are
constants on show, that much is undeniable: the beats are (almost without fail) intriguing and drive the tracks forwards with great momentum. But too often, Jessie J forgets to write an actual pop song at the expense of some bold-faced and ultimately shallow definition of 'personality'. Maybe this is the inevitable result of her aforementioned plight, the need to define herself straight off the bat in the modern music industry, hindered further by her pre-debut awards. That still doesn't change the fact that Who You Are
is far more annoying than charming and far more artificial than heartfelt.