Ever since the start of the year, Jessica Cornish – better known by her stage name Jessie J – has been poised to take 2011 by storm, named the BBC Sound of 2011 and crowned the winner of the BRITS Critics’ Choice Awards in January and February respectively.
With only three months of the year gone [the third’s not even fully spent], the 22-year old singer/songwriter from Redbridge, UK has done exactly that; with a UK number one single already to her name (“Price Tag,” featuring B.o.B, which also charted at number one in Scotland, New Zealand and in Ireland), her recently released debut album Who You Are [which we’re about to delve into] charting at number two on the UK album charts and landing the highly-coveted musical guest gig on the legendary comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live.
We all know that Jessie J can sing and will sing the best of them out of the park. We also all know she can pen some pretty good Pop songs, having already written for Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown. With much of the album already on her YouTube channel for months and months prior to the release of the album, we already had an idea that Jessie J’s debut album was going to be pretty alright still.
However, even though YouTube recordings of you singing songs in your bathroom or apartment might sound good at the time, translating those songs into records on a studio album is another thing entirely. Does the BBC Sound of 2011 and 2011 BRITS Choice Awards winner deliver the goods on her full-length debut album?
The album is filled with some pretty awesome songs that have been well-crafted musically and written beautifully; like one of my personal favourites on the album, the album’s title track, which sees Jessie J sing her lungs out (as usual) about being “true to who you are” and refusing to fit into a certain mould over a minimalist musical backdrop of acoustic guitar and light drums with added layers of superb electric guitar and glorious violin arrangements injected in to the song as it reaches a crescendo.
Another of my personal favourites and hands-down one of if not the best songs on the album for me is the keyboard-driven power ballad, “I Need This” which is accompanied by absolutely divine drum patterns and electric guitar arrangements and sees Jessie J in glorious form, both lyrically and vocally with a 100% all-around stellar performance.
The obvious stand-out song of the album even before the album was recorded had to be “Big White Room” and after recording quite a few versions of the song for the album, Jessie J chose to use a live rendition of the song which she performed at Scala in London at the start of the year for inclusion on her album and by God, was it a brilliant decision! This version simply just sees Jessie J flanked by acoustic guitar give a hair-raising performance of this hugely popular and well-loved song with raw emotion and pure unadulterated vocal prowess. By far the most commanding performance of the album.
Every pop princess needs her own life-affirmative anthem and the mid-tempo Reggae-influenced “Stand Up” is Jessie J’s very own Pop anthem. Laced with joyful hand claps, infectious guitar strings, groovy bass lines, flattering violin arrangements and a contagious sing-along chorus, all combining to create what will be one of Jessie J’s concert favourites in times to come.
There are songs on this album that aren’t great but they are miles and miles above average and certainly deserve mention in their own right. “Casualty of Love” is one such song; which doesn’t quite blow me away but its unassuming musical arrangement led by light keyboards and drums gives it a gentle R&B flavour that you can’t help but fall for and which will get you snapping your fingers and swaying gently from side to side. Granted, it is not the strongest lyrical showing from Jessie by any means but her commanding vocals continue to shine beautifully on this record. Another of such songs is the kick drum-led “Abracadabra” complimented by sparse keyboard lines and glorious backing harmonies with a catchy sing-along chorus that distinctively reminds me of the beautiful summer time.
The up-tempo songs on the album, I find are where Jessie J struggles the most to hold my attention. The infectious “Rainbow” and the fast-paced “Who’s Laughing Now,” for example, are all really catchy pop songs in the same vein as her debut single “Do It Like A Dude” but none as good or even anywhere near as commanding as her debut single except possibly “Nobody’s Perfect” which, when categorised properly, is more of a mid-tempo number that sees Jessie sing about being imperfect and seek forgiveness for it in another strong vocal showing backed by a superbly complimentary musical backdrop led by a beautiful coming together of distinct violin arrangements, underpinning bass guitar and bold drum patterns.
To answer my earlier question about whether Jessie J delivers on her full length debut album, well YES she resoundingly does – and as far as modern day mainstream pop records go, Who You Are certainly holds its own and that’s by any comparison. It’s not groundbreaking or innovative by any means but that’s not what Jessie J is about. She is about well-written pop songs, seriously mind-blowing vocal performances and she does those two things well on Who You Are. The added bonus is that musically, this album sounds and feels great. Granted, there is room for improvement and expansion in really what I pin down to as the quality of the song-writing and the subject matter but all in all, it is a very good effort for a debut pop album.