Likes: Ain’t Been Done, Fire, Seal Me with a Kiss, Said Too Much
Overall: A decent mix of pop-tart and sensitive pop
Although I really hate the “choose me over her because I’m a sexual supernova” premise of the hit “Bang Bang” featuring Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj, I’m kind of glad about it because it’s brought more attention to the ridiculously underrated Jessica Cornish, A.K.A. Jessie J. Her voice is rich, strapping, dynamic and soulful. Her tone is unique and stylistic. She has affect and technique. Her writing approach is often thoughtful and sincere. Mainstream music needs her because, unlike many of those who hold the title of “recording artist” these days, she fulfills her job description. That’s why it’s aggravating and worrisome that the executives involved in her American sponsorship (she’s from the U.K.) seem to be tampering with her. Her debut Who You Are placed 11th on the U.S. Billboard chart and had a platinum single, “Price Tag,” but overall wasn’t a commercial success. Surprise, surprise, the later-released deluxe edition of the album featured the very Katy Perry-styled “Domino.” Of course, that track went on to sell 2 million copies. When Jessie completed the follow up LP Alive, she reportedly was asked to record a different set of songs for the U.S. release, only for the project to be discarded altogether. 1 year later, here we are with Sweet Talker and her writing credits have been cut down from every song to half. The silver lining is that, minus some of the tart material (no pun intended), Sweet still sounds like something Jessie would put out.
The bulk of the aforesaid tart is at the beginning of the album and concealed with jumping rhythms, as most shallow songs are, to make them irresistible. I fell prey to the Parliament Funkadelic-sampled “Seal Me with a Kiss.” Techno and/or pop brass synths are often easy to ignore; nasty bass synths are the only kind that should exist. “Fire” is just that, dramatically swelling from a gentle flicker to a full brush. The tender musical disposition of “Personal” emits that the song lives up to its title, but the vague, recurrent lyrics demonstrate otherwise. The whole message is that she’s in love and telling others too much of her business. It’s not the “Who You Are” or “Big White Room” moment I thought was coming. 90% of the song is made up of identical phrases. It took 3 writers, which included the well-reputed Elle Varner, to parrot? The last half of the record has more of Jessie’s lyrical work, but distracting from it is the decrease in ebullience in the production, with a series of all-purpose, familiar-sounding mid-tempos seemingly formatted to catch the average ear. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make a song tangible to various audiences, but vanilla, common and unthreatening sometimes result in forgettable. “Vanilla,” “common” and “forgettable” definitely aren’t adjectives befitting of Jessie J.
Sweet Talker’s comprehensive strength is that denotes what’s good about pop music just as much as it hints at the weaknesses it’s usually criticized for. As I explained in “StereoLove: The Birth of a Music Nerd”, pop may frequently employ generics and simplifications for commercial appeal, but because it reaches the masses, it has the ability to be a unifier amongst opposites or a megaphone for a great cause or message. There is such a thing as quality pop. I would hardly call Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” or Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” trash. Sweet may have boppy “Bang Bang” bits, but relatable tracks with dexterity outnumber those. Also, Jessie never dilutes her voice to make soul-opposed listeners (yes, they do exist) more comfortable. Jessie J was able to cut through what could’ve been major pitfalls on this record with her presence and pipes. Thankfully, most of the contributions of others were of grade, but the fact that there were any elements that could hinder or not show the best of her startle me. Give her full writing credit back, and leave the tart and adult contemporary radio-friendly production alone.