“I’mma do it like it ain’t been done”, Jessie J sings on the opening track of her latest album. If by “ain’t been done” she means release an album that won’t flop, she’s thoroughly mistaken.
The thing is, ‘Sweet Talker’ isn’t necessarily a bad album. There are catchy hooks, some heartfelt lyrics and, most of all, some impressive and passionate vocals. If there’s one thing that Jessie J does better than most it’s sing. And she really can SANG.
Yet, three albums in, it’s clear that she just doesn’t know what sort of artist to be anymore. Criticised at every turn, her previous albums have contained hip-hop anthems, pop anthems, ballad anthems, feminist anthems and everything in between. Now the anthems are running thin, offering nothing we haven’t heard before. ‘Sweet Talker’ falls into an odd safe zone that accomplishes nothing. But where else can she go?
Seal Me With A Kiss is an album highlight that at least offers something different (for Jessie at least). Featuring De La Soul, it’s a 90s style funk banger that proves to be a decent fit for her vocal riffs and ticks – even if the middle eight rap from De La Soul is terrible (“girl you know I can’t sleep ‘till I poke”). Elsewhere Burnin’ Up is another attempt to recapture the essence of Do It Like A Dude; Keep Us Together is a catchy piano-led mid-tempo pop track; the title track falls into the EDM trap; and Bang Bang is as shouty as pop tracks come.
For the most part, the album is a series of (supposedly) powerful ballads. Fire soars like an unstoppable inferno, her vocal becoming increasingly crazed. The raw emotion of Personal is lost in typically over-cooked singing. Get Away finally ends the album on a much needed quiet note. The main criticism against Jessie J is that her singing is emphatic to the point of hyperbole, her music so overblown it slips into melodrama. ‘Sweet Talker’ does nothing to address this issue. She’s always been at her best when she doesn’t take herself so seriously – Do It Like A Dude, Domino and, here, Seal Me With A Kiss – but in her desire to be taken seriously by both critics and public she’s taken things too far. A frequent occurrence.
Her response is the dramatic Masterpiece. “If you don’t like my sound, you can turn it down”, she spits, “Sometimes I mess up, I eff up, I hit and miss, but I’m ok, I’m cool with it”. Is she? Over the course of the three albums, you get the impression that Jessie J is something of a perfectionist, yet by constantly striving for perfection she’s shooting herself in the foot by releasing an endless string of ‘bangers’ that never quite hit the mark. In the search for her enigmatic masterpiece she should probably take her own advice: nobody’s perfect.
* Seal Me With A Kiss
* Keep Us Together
Listen: ‘Sweet Talker’ is available now.