It's too bad the US market never had a fair chance to hear Jessie J's charming sophomore effort, Alive; though it has a few unnecessary tracks, it is a diverse, warm collection united by J's optimistic world view. Still, at least we now have Sweet Talker, the singer's most sonically unified.
With this third project, Jessie J has delivered the urban record she was destined to make. Gone are the tangents into disco, power pop, and soft rock. Sweet Talker blends R and B with soul, adding dashes of hip-hop to create an album not all that different from urban classics like Whitney Houston's My Love is Your Love. The material suits J, and the record starts off with a bang--well, to be specific, the excellent ballsy opener "Ain't Been Done," sexpot second single "Burnin' Up (ft 2 Chainz)," slow burning title track, and international hit "Bang Bang," with fellow divas Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
The album's latter two-thirds indulge in some ballads, which though nicely produced, achieve varying levels of quality. "Fire," "Said Too Much," and "Get Away" feature strong vocal performances, but the tracks never quite reach a compelling apex or resolution. However, "Personal" has an understated beauty, and "Masterpiece" has just enough sass mixed with optimism to be interesting--it's the track that could have easily fit on Alive. "Keep Us Together" also has a solid hook and sharp backing track. What these songs help prove is that Jessie J has one of the best voices in pop music and she has learned to better control that voice, knowing when to pull back.
That said, Sweet Talker is most enjoyable when the singer is having fun, as we hear on the De La Soul collab, "Seal Me With A Kiss," which feels straight out of the 90s with a laid-back rhythm section and breathy hook. It's a magic track, and while I wish Alive had gotten a better shot, it's the kind of track that shows Sweet Talker has a lot going for it.