Jess Glynne’s ‘I Cry When I Laugh’ Is a Disco-Pop Daydream (Album Review)
To call Jess Glynne a beginner isn't entirely accurate. At 25, she's amassed five No. 1 singles in the United Kingdom, earned a Grammy Award for her work on "Rather Be" and undergone vocal polyp surgery—an honorable war wound sported by any respected soul-pop singer. Still, it's only today (September 11) that her debut album, I Cry When I Laugh, officially lands Stateside, and where Adele's footprints have emotionally devastated Americans who've followed in her tracks, Glynne's promising to be a little lighter on her feet.
A former X Factor reject who's since called the integrity of talent shows into question, Glynne was working in booze-brand management just two years ago. But after meeting songwriter Jin Jin and producer Bless Beats while taking a collegiate music course, she recorded her first track, earned attention from labels and set into motion an ascent that's yet to level off onto a cruising altitude.
Since her feature on Clean Bandit's 2014 hit, which demonstrated clear contemporary appeal, Glynne's been at work harvesting her own sound, and by Laugh's second track, the attitude is clear. "Hold My Hand," produced by Starsmith, calls on a chirpy keyboard to deliver dance hall-ready disco-pop for a crowd that's barely acquainted with glitter balls. It's smooth, balmy and will likely find you staring out the window; too busy daydreaming to address the day's more pressing matters.
"Don't Be So Hard On Yourself" similarly uses upbeat soul as a vehicle to deliver sonic-cheeriness, but where the funky production was previously reserved for spelling out love letters, it's become a warning against self-deprecation. In other words, it's your new preferred empowerment anthem. "Because I'm just tired of marching on my own / Kind of frail, I feel it in my bones / Oh let my heart, my heart turn into stone / So don't be so hard on yourself, no," Glynne pleads between verses that are delivered nearly as quickly as those issued in the most heated rounds of hip-hop battles. And it's no surprise, as the singer has told the Evening Standard "I love rap and I try to write a bit like a rapper, to have a flow."
If flow's the aim, call "Why Me" a bullseye. The song, a slinky, cool R&B tune that ushers the singer into a crowded rooftop party at dusk, is much sexier than the rest. By colliding competing percussion elements with oscillating hints of synth, Glynne constructs her very own theme park ride that can accelerate at a moment's notice, stop without warning and turn on a dime. The subject is bleak ("Everything was right and now it’s gone / Like a tree, you cut me down, let me go," she cries) but it sounds so, so pleasant—you'll never be so happy to have been dragged through a faltering relationship's gauntlet.
"My Love," the work's sole acoustic track, achieves the inverse effect: Previously burned, Glynne suddenly finds her wounds have been licked, but with only a sentimental piano to see her through, her hopeful words somehow sound maudlin. "And oh, You've turned this black heart made it into gold / So I wanna let you know that," she explains. She could have cut her powerful voice loose and let it soar, but smartly leaves it mostly tethered to the ground, instead. Still, it pierces through tune's dead space like a harpoon.
(Feeling a little weepy? "Rather Be," which follows up the ballad, offers a hit of restorative endorphins, and suddenly, you're back in the sun!)
While the album's generally honeyed tone could earn it a Ben and Jerry's novelty flavor, dessert is, strangely, host to Glynne's most despondent offering. "Saddest Vanilla," which features Emeli Sande, expertly uncovers breakup-pop's sweet spot, which is somewhere in the jukebox of an imagined malt shop. The song gently but dejectedly chronicles love gone wrong and, in the most complimentary way, registers as a Spice Girls B-Side. "Sat at an ice cream parlour / You went and broke my heart, yeah / Now I'm the saddest vanilla," the duo croon in unison. It's one poodle skirt and a leather jacket short of a lover's quarrel at Arnold's Drive-In.
If there's any trouble on Laugh, it's rooted in over-production. The polish is so unspoiled, it's hard not to wish Glynne had sanded off additional lacquer to explore the beauty of grime or rust. "Take Me Home," a noticeable departure, finds Glynne flirting with dirtiness, but the album needs more. A scratch, screech or a bit of broken breath make great singers sui generis, and Glynne can't afford to blend in with her smoky contemporaries.
Still, I Cry When I Laugh hasn't forfeited its fingerprint, and by the album's end, Glynne's disco-pop lane is masterfully paved. Where mood elevators or prescription lithium fail, the singer's debut album will bring the happy: Press play, recede and dream.