Monday, October 13, 2014

Sweet Talker | Jessie J


★★☆☆

She's only three years into her recording career yet Jessie J is already dazed and confused on what move to make next. The English singer-songwriter silently penned tracks for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown before she took the world by storm with her debut album, Who You Are, and singles like "Domino" and "Price Tag." After that, she disappeared from sight in American pop culture. However, across the pond in her native country, Jessie J famously shaved her head for a charity benefiting cancer research and released her follow-up, Alive. Although the album didn't completely commercially fail by definition, it did by comparison to her monstrous debut, and that was enough to scrap any plans for an American release of the album. Hence, we have now been handed Sweet Talker, Jessie's sophomore album by American standards, but third overall.

Upon being slammed as a "flopping" act by critics, artists have each had their own ways of coping with the criticism. For Avril Lavigne, it meant releasing a borderline-racist music video to spike interest; for Lady Gaga, it meant abandoning ship and hiding herself from public view for months on end; for Britney Spears, it meant that a Vegas residency deal could continue paying her tab at Starbucks. However, Jessie J decided on counteracting any claims of her fading presence as quickly as possible with this new album. Although she has confidently breezed over Alive's missteps multiple times in interviews, Jessie J's newfound position at the bottom of the sales charts clearly damaged her confidence as an artist and songwriter. Jessie went from co-writing all of the tracks on her first two albums to only penning five of the twelve tracks on Sweet Talker. Clearly, integrity has been discounted in favor of commercial dominance, but has it paid off?

To announce her return to the States, Jessie enrolled the help of fellow songstress Ariana Grande and rapper Nicki Minaj (who have both been riding on their own tidal waves in American pop culture this year) on "Bang Bang." The track, which contains watermarks of Max Martin's influence, was a wise choice for the leading cut from the album thanks to how well the three divas mesh as they seduce with promises to blow (more than) your mind in the backseat of a car. The sexual overdrive doesn't kick into neutral as Jessie moves onto the album's overlooked second single, either; "Burnin' Up" is the infectious pop-meets-country track that Miley Cyrus tried to create with "4x4" last year. The track oozes with lust as Jessie claims she is "drippin' in sweat" and "burnin' up for your love." While the brash appearance from 2 Chainz on "Burnin' Up" was unnecessary, it doesn't extinguish the flames on the track.

"Burnin' Up" opens the door for an urban-infused rhythmic pop sound that has been pieced together from external influences and sprinkled through the album. The album's opening number, for example, allows Jessie J to slide into a sing-rap style that channels pop-meets-pseudo-rap duo Karmin. "Keep Us Together" and "Sweet Talker" both utilize a return to a moderate R&B-pop blend that suits Jessie J well; contemporary radio would grab hold of the tracks quickly. She also brings in De La Soul for assistance on "Seal Me with a Kiss," a '80s-funk and R&B track that finally allows Jessie to experiment a bit without sounding unoriginal. This track returns to the sexual undertones of the album's first two singles, but with more subtle and innocent interpretations: "Take me, love me with your lips / Seal me with a kiss."

Elsewhere on the album, Jessie J still struggles to find her own sound, but a power-ballad format takes center stage. Unsurprisingly, violinist Lindsey Stirling's credited instrumental work on "Loud" is more of a subtle complement to the track rather than a recognizable feature, but it ends up as a blossoming and booming cut. "Personal" finds Jessie J sounding more like P!nk than herself, but she manages to find her own voice again for "Masterpiece" and the touching "Get Away," which ends the album on its most raw moment. Most of this album flies over listeners' heads as a way to regain lost territory for Jessie J, but "Get Away" breaks free to a vulnerable and intimate piano ballad. She goes through this track from gentle coos to powerful belts as she sings, "How's this a different kind of love? / It used to be saving us, now it's just breaking us / It's not about just giving up, we know we're not safe enough."

While Jessie J has managed to make an album worth listening to, she has also lost her personality. Instead of continuing to pave her own way, she has now insisted on playing dress-up with the style of others; her vocal power isn't compromised, but it's just utilized to fit the part of other artists. We clearly know her goals with this album cycle and although she may have managed to create a seemingly average album right now, I doubt Sweet Talker will be able to withstand multiple replays. The album may have actually benefited by moving the bonus tracks to the standard pressing, as well: "Your Loss I'm Found" has huge potential. So, if a temporary burst of popularity is what Jessie J was aiming for, her wish has been fulfilled. However, if she wants longevity, Sweet Talker isn't going to cut it.

Sweet Talker will be released on October 14, 2014 under Republic Records and Lava Music. Standard and deluxe pressings will be available.

1 comment:

  1. Jessie J's voice is one of the most horrible noises I have had the displeasure hearing a human make. I hope she goes away, or at the very least becomes mute.

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