Jessie J Delivers Transcendent Four-Part Album ‘R.O.S.E.’

We all know the story of the celebrity who grows disillusioned with the glitz and glamour, and suddenly starts preaching a new gospel. It can win an artist critical respect and cult followings, or condemn the artist to eternal ridicule. English soul singer-songwriter Jessie J is the first British female to have six top ten hits from a studio album. Her previous releases were radio-friendly, and she could easily dish out more of the same. However, she’s in a different place today, and has dared to take a new musical direction that reflects her personal growth. Her new record, “R.O.S.E,” comes in four installments, released one by one over four consecutive days. The titular acronym stands for the four individual releases: “Realisations,” “Obsessions,” “Sex,” and “Empowerment.” Altogether, they showcase a matured artist boldly reinventing herself.

The first release, “Realisations,” begins with Jessie’s voice up front, laying out stream-of-consciousness reflections over sliding guitar and meandering bass. “Oh Lord” is an intimate opener, with breathily voiced melodies that dissipate in trails of vibrato, pronouncing a jaded speaker’s search for renewed inspiration. This segues into “Think About That.” Upon the lines, “You just laughed when I cried / Think About That,” the beat drops, signaling the start of a “realisation.” The high hat patterns shift, and choirs swell in and out, altering the musical context to demonstrate shifts in perspective. The backdrop vanishes on the line, “You’re a shark, a cheat, a traitor,” whereupon the beat resumes, now at a steady cadence; the realisation is complete.

On “Dopamine,” the incomplete backing vocals, “dopa, dopa,” express still-emerging thoughts. Among Jessie’s rambling complaints is that “The media is fucked, feed us lies so we’re full on nothing.” Having sorted out who is and isn’t on her side, she’s moved on to sorting out what does and doesn’t matter. On “Easy On Me,” she’s audibly wistful but unprecedentedly composed. She bellows more vigorously, having found the courage to insist, “I need something to be mine.” Knowing to expect ups and downs, she entreats, “Go easy on me.” As her fluttering voice fades gently, the track dissolves into dreamy, ambience. Four “realisations” in, Jessie has come to terms with both herself and others, rearranged her priorities, and strengthened her resolve.

The second installment, “Obsessions” is different from the onset. Opener “Real Deal” is an upbeat number with a lighthearted throwback beat and goofy air horns. Jessie pronounces the title with gleeful swag, sounding feisty and playful throughout, worlds away from the relative doom and gloom of “Realisations.” This mood continues into “Petty,” which revisits “Dopamine’s” survey of priorities. Jessie sounds no longer troubled, merely amused. The instantly catchy, “You’re so, you’re so, you’re so petty” is an indictment of people with trivial “obsessions.”

A second try with a love interest betrays “obsession” on “Not My Ex.” Maternal instincts define the “obsession” of the final song, “Four Letter Word.” The lyrics, “I will be a six letter word, but four letter word is you,” are cleverly only later elucidated: “You’ll be my baby, I’ll be your mother.” The crisp minimal hip-hop beat and jazzy keys give the song a tight neo soul groove, over which Jessie skirts and soars, really showing off her singing chops. Her melismatic theatrics are showy, but performed with graceful, confident ease. She glides from endearing whispers to dramatic hollers, then fades out with breezy scat singing.  

Having come to realisations and explored obsessions, Jessie turns her newly enlightened eye to a matter intertwined with obsessions: “Sex.” The third installment, titled as such, refers to both the term’s meanings. Opener “Queen” is an anthem of feminine empowerment, with the refrain, “I love my body, I love my skin / I am a goddess, I am a queen.” This has been done before, and can come across like a complacency-justifying command to profess pride in one’s every personal trait, no matter how one really feels. Still, it’s less offensive than the deeply ingrained, unspoken creed that one’s worth is measured in terms of one’s adherence to conventional standards. The “Queen” video features confident, happy women, of various ethnicities and body types. While this itself is nothing original, the cast grows increasingly diverse, incorporating such characters as a very elderly lady, a down syndrome girl, and a model with physical deformities. Such radical inclusion makes for shocking visuals, and the mere fact that we find them shocking draws attention to how unfairly exclusive things are. Jessie began calling out the bullshit on “Realisations,” and is now uniting and elevating us all.

“One Night Lover,” a catchy track conjuring Mary J. Blige, continues the theme of self-worth, with Jessie refusing to settle for the eponymous role. If “Sex” seems, at this point, a misleading title, along comes the steamy “Dangerous,” a funky, soulful cut with ‘70s flavor and lyrics like, “Talking with your hands gets me naked.” “Play,” a fun-loving, dancey closer continues the feel, both sonically and lyrically, with Jessie zig-zagging through octaves, delivering lines like, “Woah, show and tell / Wanna play with you.”

“Glory” is a ‘70s throwback in the protest song tradition. It’s a cut of pure funk, with brass hits, ferocious diva posturing, and calls to action: “Imma stand and fight / Gotta do what’s right.” The subdued, jazzy instrumental interlude, “Rose Challenge,” is a moment of calm after the colorful opener. The outlandish appropriation of styles from other eras imparts a cinematic quality, which reaches its apex on “Someone’s Lady.” Jessie is alone with raked, sentimental, jazz chords that ring and expose her to the bare bassline. In this space, she takes the spotlight and becomes a chanteuse in a dim-lit nightclub. It’s an intimate performance, stirring emotions and showcasing her formidable technical prowess. After declaring, “I just want to be someone’s lady,” she concludes the record on an optimistic note. A Voodoo-era D’Angelo-type beat sets off and carries Jessie home on a soulful groove, as she insists, “I know I’ll be alright… ‘Cause I believe in love.” Righteous determination, empathy, and optimism have constituted “empowerment.”

One by One, Jessie J has tackled the hefty issues of realisations, obsessions, sex, and empowerment, and documented her explorations musically. It takes a dynamic, visionary talent to pull this off. We’re living in crazy times, with the divisive sociopolitical climate, the dehumanizing effects of technology, etc. In such an environment, it’s natural to pose existential questions and search for deeper meaning. This makes “R.O.S.E.” a timely release, likely to resonate on a large scale. Jessie has received considerable backlash for her sharp left turn, but will surely win new acolytes with her boldness, sincerity, and ambition. The new record shows her expanding to greater proportions, and elevating her art to a new level.  

Realisations,” “Obsessions,” “Sex,” and “Empowerment are available on Apple Music