Having your first debut piece of material, in collaboration with a barely known dance outfit, top the charts and earn you a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording must cause a bit of an identity crisis, especially if your original career path was to be a pop singer rather than the vocal backups for commercialised dance music. Nevertheless, Jess Glynne’s breakthrough was her collaboration with Clean Bandit on their hit single “Rather Be”, and it was a collaboration that she milked for a year until the song began to lose steam as it dropped off the charts and received less radio play. It then became a question of whether Jess Glynne was going to remain a one-hit wonder, continue to be the go-to singer for featuring on commercial dance tracks, or carve her own career path without relying too heavily on the success of “Rather Be”.
It is with the latter in mind that Jess Glynne announced that she was going to be releasing her debut album I Cry When I Laugh which released at the end of August in the United Kingdom, charted at number one on the UK charts, and was subsequently certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. It may not have won a Grammy, but these are feats that draw distinctive parallels to the success of “Rather Be” – a song that rather conveniently shows up as track nine on I Cry When I Laugh, if you get yourself the international release edition. At first glance, it would be so easier to base the success of I Cry When I Laugh on one singular song seeing as the song catapulted Clean Bandit into commercial success with them performing at numerous international festivals, and shall be gracing South African shores in the near future.
However, that would be rather closed minded and simplistic of you to dismiss an entire album as being a commercial write-off simply because it happens to have one the most popular dance anthems of 2015 on it. It takes a full listen of I Cry When I Laugh to appreciate why this album, in all its commercial pop glory, received as much praise on the charts as it did. You also have to understand that their promotion plan of Atlantic Records played an enormous role in driving album sales. This is because they were smart and decided to release a whopping five singles off the album ahead of its release, and every single one of them charted at number one in the UK – partially due to the fact that each single was catchy and completely different to the preceding singles. An impressive feat for a female pop star in today’s misogynistic and sexist musical culture, and one that takes an immense amount of talent to pull off. The talent that Glynne most definitely has and flaunts on I Cry When I Laugh. “Rather Be” is just an added bonus.
Glynne delivers a stellar performance on I Cry When I Laugh. She moves with an ethereal sense of grace as she shifts from commanding dancehalls of sweating bodies with the dance-pop driven beat of “Hold My Hand” to the swelling pop ballad of “Take Me Home” – a song that exudes a strong sense of gospel spirituality with Glynne’s soaring vocals and romanticised lyrics of “could you take care of a broken soul? Could you hold me now? Will you take me home?” The production work on I Cry When I Laugh may be haphazard and reluctant to stick to a precise pattern or formula with some song being driven by dance-pop production work, and others being rooted in much simpler production work focused on creating emotive and soaring pop ballads. It adds to the impact of I Cry When I Laugh as it mirrors into the theme suggested by the title with regards to the juxtaposition of joy and sadness in human relations.
This was not an album driven by one singular dance anthem, but rather one driven by the sheer willpower and talent of a young British newcomer intent on placing her mark on a music scene that tries to force female singers into the same tiny box of mindless bubblegum pop. That is not going to happen with Jess Glynne – she has proven herself to be a force with which to reckon.