Post writing several hit records for other artists, most notably Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party In The U.S.A.’ and then recording a song featured in the film Easy A, titled ‘Sexy Silk’, critics appointed Jessie J as ‘the next big thing’. Jessie J seemed promising, but the thing is she is still promising, and has yet to prove that promising character she keeps on exuding. Who You Are marks her debut, fillled with a ballsy attitude and funky confidence, but at the same time with unconventional softness, which doesn’t quite go with neither the cover of the album or overall feel of particular tracks. It surely entertains, but it doesn’t settle for either an attitude or a positive pop sound. The big pressure shoved into the project had as a consequence a somewhat contrived nature, which is most flagrant in a couple aspects of the record, such as over extensive octaves and apparently camouflaged force fed themes.

‘Price Tag’ is another successful pop-rap mash up in the likes of B.o.B.’s Hayley Williams assisted ‘Airplanes’. It is well written referencing materialism over being more sensitive and aware of one’s humanity. It is  a solid pop track, though it is ironic how the song preaches against self-monetary value, while on the iTunes store it is worth $1.29; isn’t the purpose to make the world dance?

‘Nobody’s Perfect’ is a faulty heartfelt apology, where she belts out angst conveying hurt; at points she sounds like Natasha Bedingfield, but this doesn’t intervene in allowing the track from being distinctive from the rest of the content of the album. ‘Abracadabra’ is pure magic.  It is simply composed, it works magnificently; it builds up instrumentation before everything comes together during the chorus, with wah-wah guitar strums, an underlaid throbbing beat and every now and then piano keys, resulting in a steady, gentle cut. Jessie does not over sing any of it, and is proof she doesn’t have to show off her range to make a song sound great. This has to be a single immediately.

‘Big White Room’ is where Jessie shines the most vocal-wise, having an acoustic guitar backing her up only, giving her the chance to make the statement, once again, that she is able to sing. It is great to have her raw talent on the album instead of drowning it in immense production, and instead permitting her to dent emotion in the delivery. The song is perfect as it is; it is unimaginable how it could sound in studio.

‘Casualty of Love’ is mellow pop R&B; it could easily be something one could find on Mariah Carey’s classic Butterfly; yes, it is that ‘up there’. ‘Rainbow’ is the typical self-empower song in the same vein as other chart ruling singles tackling on the same matter, such as Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ and Lady GaGa’s ‘Born This Way’, but just not as good even though catchy; a tad stale, it just lacks that oomph.

The self-empower embroidery continues in the Lily Allen-esque sounding ‘Who’s Laughing Now’, where Jessie shares alleged abusive school experiences (call it bullying if necessary). The song is a too-early slam on haters, it is well put and nicely sung; angry yet conceited. It is a good track, but the theme of the previous track is too back to back.

‘Do It like a Dude’ is an ‘in your face’ thump. It is belligerent and placidly risqué, with open swearing. There hasn’t been a better breakdown in the whole record than this one, where she addresses and taunts boys directly. It is a nice blend of sheer hip hop and pop. It is a standout, with its infectious beats and lyrics.

‘Mama Knows Best’ sounds vintage, tingeing a little Jennifer Hudson in Dream Girls; it is hard to in fact take the song being sung by a white person. It is so R&B at particular points, it almost sounds like a different persona has taken over, other than the one Jessie introduces in the rest of the tracks. The vocals are flawless, but yet again aren’t consistent with the material in the rest of the body of work, maybe because the sound is not as commercial as the rest of the album. The prolonged ending notes are too lengthened, they sort of stomp on the gleaming proposition of the track.

‘L.O.V.E.’ is plain denial towards accepting emotional reaction. She plays hard towards the feeling, but in the midst of avoiding the cookie cutter, stereotype or mere cheese of love songs, by excusing and refusing, if not denying the acknowledge of an usual love song, Jessie falls on it flat, embedding it in a ‘promised I wouldn’t do this’, yet did it. She blatantly claims to be in love, and the half-spoken allegations made throughout the song, giving the notion of a nervous jitter of proving otherwise, making it credible.

‘Stand Up’ sounds like something belonging to Natasha Bedingfield’s repertoire, not only in style or theme, but in the sound of the vocals as well. Don’t know if it’s a matter of modulation or accent by all the British, but it sounds surprisingly too Bedingfield, with the only distinction being her oddly interesting characteristic of stuttering her own lyric, without any studio trickery or electronic enhancement; this shows how resourceful her voice can be when it is not over belting out her range. ‘I Need This’ is good, but Jessie tries to reproduce the largely vocal eccentrics of ‘Mama Knows Best’ with one too many unnecessary rollercoaster-like oh whoa oh’s. The title track and album closer is touching, and sounds honest. Its electronic rock edge mixed with her brokenly sung lyrics are amusing, this would probably seem feigned at first but after careful listens comes across as having a different approach in comparison to the other positive messaged tracks in the album.

Jessie J has an irrefutable vocal ability, but the problem is she over-sings at times, and makes what should be a pleasant listen, the complete opposite. Every song is well crafted and follows its tempo, until she overdoes them, leaving the listener with a raised brow and not an earache exactly, but close. It is an enjoyable pop slash R&B album, excluding when the over singing is present. It is a great listen, but unfortunately cannot reach brilliance due to the perceptible fixed nature of the motifs in the album. It attempts a little too hard to fit or to garner the attention it pretends to attain.

Despite the title of the album being Who You Are, Jessie J fails at finding any identity herself, since she jumps from style to style throughout, while exercising one too many vocal gymnastics, obligating the listener to become confused and rather clueless regarding what is her personal stamp or signature in here. Instead of proving some sort of versatility, she instead reveals the absence of any sense of cohesion.

It feels all the sudden interest in Jessie, plus her early critical acclaim, was some major pressure to meet expectations, which resulted in several attempts to convince how right critics were. The record is well produced, and Jessie does have talent; think of a more powerful Lily Allen fused with Natasha Bedingfield and Fergie. She knows how to carry a tune. The sound of the album is commercial, but swirls around different edges in songs like ‘Mama Knows Best’, ‘Casualty of Love’ and ‘Big White Room’ thus resulting a little over the place, and not sitting well with the much more mainstream bunch.

This does not mean it is bad, because it doesn’t go that far either. But it could’ve been better without all the hype and early showing of what Jessie J was marketed as. For a debut, regardless of its weaknesses, it is a firm start. One will just have to see how Jessie J grows in her craft in the future. Her vocal ability is already a good sign she can in fact shimmer, but she could’ve much more without having the many expectations surrounding her launching, which reflected on how she delivered. Jessie J is certainly capable, let’s hope next time she releases does it on less pressured ground, and proves she can pull herself off without having to cater to the masses. It is a good effort; it just needs to tone down the vocal calisthenics and let the music speak for itself.

★★★

C.Perez