Originally published on So So Gay on 13 October 2014.
Barely a year has passed since the shy and retiring Jessie J released her sophomore album, Alive, but here we are at album number three. With a host of collaborators and a veritable army of writers and producers drafted in, clearly the budget for Sweet Talker had all been spent by the time it came to producing the album’s artwork – the poor dear had to pose in just her knickers. Still, nice shoes.
Lead single ‘Bang Bang‘, with its booming gospel flavour and guest turns from everyone’s favourite Mariah Carey tribute act and a demented chipmunk, managed to dominate music charts across the world when it was released back in July. It remains an infectious if slightly exhausting listen – an energy that was carried on to second single, ‘Burnin’ Up’, which features some nice harmonies alongside a rap from 2 Chainz. In fact, this high energy runs pretty much all the way through Sweet Talker – which is not necessarily always a good thing.
Sweet Talker is certainly a solid album full of decent slices of pop-flavoured R&B, but while Jessie J may have the vocal chops, she does tend to lack the finesse and nuance of other vocalists. She knows how to sing, but not necessarily how to perform. The gritty swag of tracks like ‘Ain’t Been Done’ and ‘Masterpiece’ are much more the human foghorn’s forte. While it may be a little sonically incongruous to the rest of the album, the funky throwback of ‘Seal Me With a Kiss’ also marks an album highlight and perhaps a sound Jessie J should be exploring more on her fourth album. It features a charmingly effortless guest appearance from hip-hop trio De La Soul, who sampled the same track (‘(Not Just) Knee Deep‘ by Funkadelic) for their classic 1989 single ‘Me, Myself, and I‘.
However, attempts at more understated and emotional songs – ‘Fire’, ‘Personal’, ‘Get Away’, and the appropriately named ‘Loud’ (!) – simply get shattered apart by Jessie’s inability to avoid singing at anything other than hurricane-force levels at some point during a track. If she’s not needlessly belting, then she’s singing in a gratingly affected manner, as she does on the album’s title track. The closest Jessie J comes to a restrained and slick performance is on the breezy mid-tempo track ‘Keep Us Together’.
The singer’s high-impact delivery style also has an effect on the album’s overall production, which ends up being equally thunderous and overblown to keep up with the 26-year-old’s vocals – the net result being that Sweet Talker is quite a wearing listen, even if there isn’t much in the way of filler on the album. With her voice somehow managing to simultaneously be her biggest asset and greatest flaw, Jessie J will always be a divisive artist, even when she clearly has the ability to construct a decent album, as she’s managed here with Sweet Talker.
Standout Tracks: ‘Ain’t Been Done’ / ‘Bang Bang’ / ‘Seal Me With a Kiss’ / ‘Keep Us Together’