With Cornish’s profile at a high and awards in the bag, Who You Are is a guaranteed hit.
Mike Diver 2011
It’s all well and good having a multi-octave voice, but without control it’s an accident waiting to happen. Jessie J – born Jessica Cornish in Redbridge – rushes up and down her scales on this anticipated debut album; but there’s more than one occasion where her fluctuating pitch is a pain in the ear.
The frustration doesn’t end there. As evidenced by her breakthrough debut single, Do It Like a Dude, Cornish has an annoying habit of inserting zany tics where songs would benefit from being played straighter (one Ke$ha is quite enough, thanks). A pretty acoustic ballad, Big White Room – recorded live, applause included – is ruined by unnecessary gymnastics. A shame, as when she’s not overreaching Cornish showcases sweet, if unspectacular, vocals.
The songs of Who You Are are expectedly split between slower, slushier affairs and punchy anthems for bolshy teens, those coming to this collection off the back of Do It Like a Dude. If modern pop-lore is to be believed, said track was originally written with Rihanna in mind (Cornish has a background in co-writing material for other artists). While the decision to keep it makes it clear Who’s Laughing Now (more bad-attitude swagger), it’s a lightweight Rude Boy rip-off masquerading as confrontational thug-pop. Hearing a BRIT School girl from London’s suburbs deliver lines derived from Caribbean slang is uncomfortable, and in terms of female empowerment the lyrics make Alexandra Burke’s Broken Heels sound like Independent Women Part 1.
Mamma Knows Best brings a big-band-trapped-in-a-synthesizer sound to the fore, more Pixie Lott than Ain’t No Other Man-period Christina Aguilera. Better is the following L.O.V.E., which walks the line between affecting and aggressive superbly, Cornish’s snarl balanced by a tender side that rarely makes an appearance; if one could squint their ears, it’d be a ringer for something from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (and that’s serious praise). The title-track returns Cornish to an acoustic accompaniment, and makes for a fine closer – it’s her Hometown Glory, without the raw emotion but touching nonetheless.
With Cornish’s profile at a high and awards in the bag, Who You Are is a guaranteed commercial hit. What it’s not, though, is a collection that confirms the arrival of a significant solo talent. It’s too patchy, too hurried, the powers behind it too eager to capitalise on the artist’s current chart success. There’s ample room for improvement, but given the well-documented hurdles Cornish has already overcome one shouldn’t write her off just yet. When the pressure’s lifted, she could conjure up a classic.