If there is a sure-fire way to attain commercial success these days, then starting with high-profile collaborations is an essential springboard. Think of Nicki Minaj’s relentless feature verses before her catapult to solo stardom; or in more recent months, Sam Smith’s huge breakthrough following his work with the likes of Disclosure and Naughty Boy. Piano-pop newbie Jess Glynne is no different. She has stormed to success with an impressive five number ones alongside Clean Bandit, Route 94 and Tinie Tempah. Her debut, I Cry When I Laugh, therefore offers the chance for Glynne to stand firmly on her own two feet, away from her association with other artists, which she does by demonstrating her brand of redemptive pop with a defiant eagerness. But that’s not to say she is going totally alone, as Clean Bandit return with the floor filler hit Real Love while Emeli Sandé features on the horrifically sickly ballad Saddest Vanilla in which the pair of crooners lament into frozen desserts. There is an ambitious breadth to I Cry When I Laugh, which unfortunately lets down the record’s overall cohesiveness, proving to be its major flaw. Over the expansive twenty track deluxe version, Jess swings pendulum-like between husky soul driven songs and broken house-infused fillers, dipping into the occasional ballad mid-swing and never quite settling on a solid sound.
Indeed, Strawberry Fields is a somewhat unexpected opener, lazily undulating with a Disclosure-like airiness. It doesn’t match with the upbeat pop template Glynne has established with her singles. Likewise, the dub-driven Why Me adds to this sense of departure. Thankfully, the record only contains a few of these blips, which fall far too short of what the songstress is capable of. For me, the tracks where Jess ventures towards more house based backdrops (presumably hoping to emulate her success with My Love) felt too try-hard, as though her producers were overcompensating to make her music “of the moment”. These songs lacked her abundant personality and without the hand of Route 94 to hold, Glynne’s detours from her usual upbeat piano left her a little out of her depth, unable to recreate the slickness My Love offered.
Yet I Cry When I Laugh does have moments when Jess displays sheer pop mastery. When belting out the soaring choruses of Hold My Hand and Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself, Glynne elevates us from the mundane throws of life. It comes as no surprise then that these two singles scaled to the number 1 spot in the charts. Both contain an irresistible giddiness that when parcelled in their up-tempo piano hooks deliver a potently warm feeling as well as choruses that are perfect to sing along to. Alongside these powerhouse tracks slides in Glynne’s R&B-licked singles Right Here and Not Letting Go, which both bounce with an effortlessly cool air about them.
The album’s mixed consistency throws up weaker tracks such as It Ain’t Right, which bubbles with Sam Sparrow-like sass but ultimately fizzles out into a flat, repetitive song. But the record then delves into homely, gospel sounds with Ain’t Got Far To Go and Gave Me Something, which showcase the strengths of her vocals. Glynne possesses a gorgeous smoky timbre and demonstrates a sultry ease that at no point on the record feels overstrained. The more soulful tracks on I Cry When I Laugh culminate in the foot-thumping No Rights No Wrongs, which was a personal favourite of mine. One of the nice things about the album is the sparing use of synths and You Can Find Me is the only one that noticeably hums with their presence.
I Cry When I Laugh is a promising start to Jess Glynne’s career. While showcasing some excellent material and several very strong singles, its lack of stylistic focus is what ultimately lets it down. For me, the record is in need of a thorough pruning, and if it had been knuckled down to her ten best songs then the outcome would have been far more sophisticated. The binding element of uplifting motifs in I Cry When I Laugh adds a very sweet sentiment to the album, and though Jess takes a few attempts to get them right, when she does, it’s magical. Therefore Glynne will hopefully follow her own message, that things will get better, for album number two.