|Recording information: Conway Studios, Los Angeles, CA; GCR Audio, Buffalo, NY; Grove Studios, London; Herminator Studios, London; Quad Studios, New York NY; RAK Studios, London; Santisound Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Stadium Red Studios, New York, NY; Strawberry Bee Studios, Hollywood Hills, CA; The London Scala.
|Described by Justin Timberlake as "the best singer in the world right now," and a recent recipient of both the Brits Critics Choice Award, and the BBC Sound of 2011, 22-year-old Jessie J has received the kind of hype that could suffocate the careers of lesser fledgling artists before they've even begun. However, backed-up by a thriving songwriting sideline (she penned Miley Cyrus' number two Billboard smash "Party in the USA") and some solid performing credentials (she appeared in Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Whistle Down the Wind as a teen), her debut album, Who You Are, reveals she's more than capable of coping with the pressure. Blessed with an astonishing voice which can effortlessly shift from emotive, tender restraint to hurricane-force powerhouse in the space of three minutes, the album's 13 tracks are a vocal tour de force, which for the most part, wisely avoid the over-elaborate gymnastics of the likes of Carey and Aguilera. But Who You Are is more than just a showcase for her impressive set of pipes. Produced by Dr. Luke (Pink), Toby Gad (Fergie), and the Invisible Men (Sugababes), it's a highly inventive genre-straddling affair which boasts at least half-a-dozen potential chart hits. Of course, lead singles "Do It Like a Dude," a brawling fusion of rock guitars, urban beats, and tongue-in-cheek female empowerment lyrics which ooze pure swagger, and "Price Tag," a Natasha Bedingfield-esque slice of infectious, summery hip-pop featuring the laid-back tones of B.o.B., have already taken care of business. Then there are the likes of "Nobody's Perfect," whose thunderous synths, spacious drums, and splashy hi-hats recall Rihanna's anthemic "Umbrella," the beautifully understated "Casualty of Love," which echoes the classic soul balladry of Alicia Keys, and the driving pop/rock of "I Need This," a faithful rendition of the track she penned for Chris Brown's Graffiti album, which could all quite easily join them in the upper reaches of the charts. Elsewhere, "Big White Room" is a gorgeous stripped-back acoustic number influenced by her spell in hospital after suffering a minor stroke; "Mamma Knows Best" is a bombastic, old-school jazz number, albeit one featuring lyrics like "Always keep my Adidas on the ground", which could have been lifted from the recent Burlesque soundtrack, while "Who's Loving You" is a feisty stab at En Vogue-style sassy R&B, where Jessie unleashes her rather unfortunate Madonna-circa-American Life MC skills. But Who You Are doesn't always meet the same high standards. "Rainbow" is the kind of formulaic fluff you'd find on a Kesha album, "Abracadabra" sounds like a a Saturdays' B-side, while the inspirational message on the epic power ballad and closing title track is overshadowed by Jessie's occasional but irritating nails-scratched-down-a-blackboard tendency to oversing. Who You Are, therefore, isn't flawless, but it more than lives up to its weighty expectations, and in the process, heralds the long-awaited arrival of a U.K. singer who finally has the ability to compete with the Beyonc?s and Lady Gagas of this world. ~ Jon O'Brien