I did not expect to like Jessie J’s CD as much as I did. I had heard a song or two in passing, and I had seen her first number as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live back in March (not impressed.) She performed “Price Tag” (“It’s not about the money, money, money”) and dressed funky. I thought: “What is this, the next studio produced Rihanna/Gaga hybrid? I caught this slight Jamaican accent from this white chick and thought it had to be put on. That annoys the hell out of me. Just sing! I forwarded my DVR right past her second performance.
A few days ago, I received an advance copy of her debut album, “Who You Are,” from the record label and groaned. In the middle of a 5-hour flight to Vegas, I was just bored enough to pop it into my CD player as I did my crossword puzzles. The first song was “Price Tag,” and I skipped past it once I got through the first half – though I have to say I like the message of it. In a world with so many shallow songs about bling (“I Want To Be A Billionaire” etc.) as if money can really make your life fulfilling, the sentiment was appealing. So if I didn’t like the song so much, I started to like her a little bit. This 23 year old already knows what’s up – she must have gone through something.
Bring on track two: “Nobody’s Perfect.” Again, the twinge of Rihanna’s accent here and there. What the heck is going on here? I had to look up her bio on Wikipedia to see if the Brit was born in the Carribbean or something…nope. On this track, again I like the idea better than the song. It’s about screwing up in a relationship and standing up and taking your lumps for it.
OK track three: “Abracadabra.” If this had been the first track, I would have had a completely different impression of Jessie J. It was clean, catchy, not gimmicky, no accent (so I guess that proves it’s put on?)
And now the meat of the album: “Big White Room.” This appears to be a recording of a live performance. It’s a slow, tortured song, beautifully and powerfully sung. I wondered why she hadn’t been doing this for the whole album? This stuff is good! She can sing. There are some gorgeous, rich, long held and pain-colored notes in here. “I don’t wanna be here anymore – I wanna be somewhere else normal and free like I used to be – but I have to stay in this big white room…I’m going crazy in this big white room…” I loved it right off the bat. As with any song, you can make it mean anything (insane asylum? coke addiction?) So back to the bio:
As it turns out, she wrote this song when she was 17 years old about something that happened when she was only eleven. Jessie was diagnosed with irregular heartbeat and hospitalized for some time as doctors tried to correct it. If that wasn’t bad enough, the younger boy who shared her hospital room died. Can you imagine the effect of that on an 11 year old? And her irregular heartbeat is nothing to brush off – it caused her to have a minor stroke at just 18 years of age. Ah…now I see why she has some more mature ideas about money, relationships, and life in general than many in her age group. Brushes with death (our own, or others close to us) tend to bring us the gift of perspective. I know it sure did for me when my father suddenly passed away when I was 20 and still forming my own opinions about what is important in life. This song touched me. I’ve felt like this. And I really appreciated the solid vocal performance. She toys with the audience at parts almost the way I’ve seen Patti LaBelle do in concert (not comparing the voice, just the style.) If I were still in my early 20’s, I’d probably be outright nuts over this track. Thankfully, I don’t live in that world anymore. I relate in retrospect, if you will.
After that, I listened to the rest of the album with a little more anticipation. Her best stuff is definitely the more stripped down, straight-sung stuff like “White Room” and “Mamma Knows Best.” Then there’s “L.O.V.E.” where she states, “See love doesn’t choose a boy or a girl…so you can stare, I don’t care…” (Yes, Miss Thing has come out as bisexual.) She puts heart into it. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She at least co-writes all of it. It’s all in key (and that’s saying a lot for music these days – the endless off-key runs – omg! Hello, you don’t just throw your voice all over the place. Every note on that run should be in key, Beyonce.) (Did I say that out loud?) This once teased little girl who got kicked out of school choir for being “too loud” has come forth with a solid initial effort. “Who You Are” is worth a listen.
Rihanna’s “S&M” (I hear it’s big at the Ramrod) has been released as a two-track single in Europe. While I’d rather wait for a nice 8-track maxi single, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. But at least this one includes the Sidney Sampson radio mix as the second track (instead of a boring instrumental!) The mix is not just a slightly different version of the original, it’s a more club-oriented version – more beats behind it, and this rubber-band bouncy thing going on in the background. I actually like it better than the original – her voice is more highlighted in parts. Totally worth it just for the remix, or if you are collecting all things Rihanna.