There are few artists more frustrating than the UK’s own Jessie J. Emerging on the music scene as a phantom songwriter for some of the most well-known musical personas in the mid to late 2000s — her most popular tune being “Party in the U.S.A.” (2010) which was popularized by Miley Cyrus — Jessie J began building a name for herself at the ground level.
However, after her years in the shadows, Jessie J made a bombastic entrance to the top charts with her debut album “Who You Are” in 2011. The album, which received mixed reviews from critics (and a particularly scathing one from the bastion of high-brow music criticism, Pitchfork), saw some singles make their way onto the Billboard Hot 100. While Jessie J has established a reputation for herself as a talented songwriter and a powerful solo artist, her music has always seemed forced. Many tracks on “Who You Are” are simply exhausting to hear. With outrageous over production and extremely derivative chord progressions, the bulk of the album is hard to stomach.
Why is Jessie J frustrating, rather than simply being lackluster? The problem isn’t only that her music is abrasive or that she has played into and helped develop the formulaic pop that is polluting radio waves today. Jessie J is frustrating because her voice is among the best ever; unfortunately, it is constantly wasted on bad music. Jessie J’s talent is on par with that of the most lauded pop divas, including but not limited to Adele, Mariah Carey and even the seemingly incomparable Beyoncé. The ease with which Jessie J sings is something to marvel at and appreciate. However, a good voice means nothing without good music. While Beyoncé is constantly producing innovative, dangerous and eclectic music with heart and soul, Jessie J continues to fall back on the cheap musical tropes that brought her into the limelight.
Unfortunately Jessie J’s sophomore attempt, “Sweet Talker,” which was released this past Tuesday, sees the supremely talented crooner once again squandering her voice on tragically over produced and under developed tracks. One of the fatal flaws of the album as a whole is that the listener is never engaged in the progression of the music. Essentially, there is no story or soul behind the twelve tracks that comprise “Sweet Talker.” And though many of the songs on the album make interesting twists and turns that showcase Jessie J’s facilities and skills in a recording studio, it is readily apparent to even the most casual listener that the songs lack a key ingredient: emotion. The one thing, it seems, that Jessie J can’t quite master is how to produce songs that aren’t superficial or purely aesthetic.
Many of the tracks on this album typify this issue. The title track, “Sweet Talker,” for instance, is a vapid ballad about a girl and a boy who fall in love even though everything is stacked against them. What’s more, the song entitled “Masterpiece” is a desperate attempt by Jessie J to prove her musical chops, while letting us all know that “I still fall on my face sometimes … I’m still working on my masterpiece.” This album is proof of that.
The album does grow into a fairly enjoyable romp, with many sonic influences from the ’80s and ’90s playing a substantial role in the fun. However, the reason this album is so bad is because Jessie J could be so good. With her amazing voice and an obvious skill for crafting thoughtful pop songs — like her infectious 2011 song “Domino” — an album like “Sweet Talker” should be deemed unacceptable.
Fans and critics alike can agree that Jessie J has the potential to do so much more than she is doing already. We can only wait with bated breath and hope that Jessie J will find a more genuine and exciting musical path than the one that she is following. For now, perhaps our time would be better spent enjoying the music of her contemporaries who are willing to take risks and challenge themselves and their audiences.