Jessie J is a name that has hovered on a lot of lips so far in 2011. Terribly important British institutions have gathered to tell us that the girl from Redbridge is undoubtedly the Next Big Thing, the UK’s answer to *insert quirky US pop starlet here*. The BBC, for one, proclaimed her as the Sound of 2011, while the BRIT Awards voting committee named her Critics’ Choice. What is it, then, that makes Jessica Cornish so special? If you’re coming to her music fresh, chances are you might not be able to connect the vapid exhortations of Who You Are to the fuss that’s being generated. Sure, it seems she can sing – instantly defeating some of her rivals right there – but what does she really say with her voice?
Put simply, Cornish is a marketing creation, sold to a gullible public as a spunky, independent woman with a big and interesting personality (exhibit A: the leering close-up and matching black hair, lips and nails of the album cover). Unfortunately, the trick to being a big and interesting personality isn’t screaming that you are a big and interesting personality at the top of your voice. When the requisite identity itself is lacking, what results is a collection of songs that sound like a lot of different artists without any overarching sense of what Cornish’s own personality or style might actually be.
There’s a decidedly US pop vibe to Who You Are, with the occasional aw’right-guv’nah schtick thrown in to remind us that Cornish is not just another American drone. Opening track and second single ‘Price Tag’ is at pains to establish Jessie J as a down-to-earth, street-smart figure in the early Lily Allen mould, and duly breaks into a quasi hip-hop, dully aspirational number with a vague whiff of something once discarded by Natasha Bedingfield. But the bland balladry of ‘Big White Room’ and ‘Casualty Of Love’ evokes a second-rate Alicia Keys and – to a lesser extent – dear old Mariah, and ‘Mamma Knows Best’ chucks its lot in with a big orchestral number that would perfectly suit the likes of P!nk; if you aren’t paying attention the two could be easily confused.
Who You Are rather appropriately begs the question “Who is Jessie J?”, as behind her virulently marketed non-persona with all its manufactured swagger and predictable themes (‘I’m a hardass’, ‘Life could be so wonderful if we just learned to care about each other’ etc.), there’s little more than an album that tries to be everything and as a result devolves into nothing, a dumb stare across the Atlantic with the distant gleam of £ signs. Cornish clearly has some talent, but until she steps up to throw her true self behind it, she’ll find it hard to go beyond this boring and forgettable fare.
[Universal/Island; February 21, 2011]
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