If Jessica Irawan sounds like a familiar name to you, it probably is due to her previous stint under the band Changing Hues where she has been gig-hopping for quite some time. The Indonesian singer-songwriter is now taking a stab at flying solo with a record aptly titled “Stepping Out”, which sounds like something a sassy, fiery woman may do. However, Jessica’s debut EP is not so much a diva moment as it is an earnest, intimate record penned down to the last word (Jessica wrote every song on this album).
Stepping Out is an album that strikes you with its heartfelt lyrics that speak of love, losing love and everything else in between. A cancer survivor, Jessica pens her experiences and emotions into every track, making you believe that indeed all is possible. “Running Free” is one of the best tracks on the album for its rousing message (I believe in the reality / that I can have what I’m seeing) and clean harmonies, which Jessica effortlessly glides over. She hits her falsetto with much ease but yet, a gumption belies her tone, a certain bite to her lower register as she straddles between speak-sing.
That bite and speak-sing works on certain tracks and fails on others. Single “Don’t You Love Me” tries too hard to channel a folksy Alanis Morissette as Jessica twangs her end notes far too much, in a bid to push the track’s come-and-get-it persona but sounding more like a forceful stretch in the end. However, jazz-soul track “Impossible” provides the perfect backdrop for some sentimental snap-snap, with lyrics that serve a good dish of sass served cold (I’ve had enough of your pathetic nonsense). Plus points for a voicemail intro that brought back memories of Jennifer Hudson & Fantasia’s “I’m His Only Woman”.
In fact, it is the lyricist in Jessica that seals this album. While it is not your so-poetic-that-it-hurts album (yes, all you hipsters, go some obscure Nancy Sinatra reference on your idol’s album instead; Lana Del Rey would be so proud of you), witty lovelorn liners such as the one in “Love That I Owed” (You don’t look like Taylor Lautner / but you’re kinda cool in a way) and other diary-like moments that are slightly cringeworthy but totally country-ish as in “Satellite” (You are like the moon / you’ll always be my satellite) make this album like prying in the secret annals of a girl’s fluffed-up wishes of love and heartbreak.
Tim De Cotta from Sixx absolutely nails his verses in “I’m Still Feeling You” like the crooner he is, with a voice so silky smooth that you can imagine his eyebrows scrunching as he reaches the high notes. Sometimes, it does get frustrating how certain tracks overlap in meaning and Jessica stays clear of making any sort of quasi-Shakespearean reference to cultural phenomena but Jessica is candidly apologetic about it on her Facebook page, even going so far as to say “I don’t know how to implement them in songwriting”. Gutsy move, but at least she’s focused on what she knows how to deliver – we like that.
Stepping Out is a good start for Jessica and a calculated move to stay radio-friendly. Her gospel background also is well-documented in the tracks that have elements of rousing divination but still stay clean-cut to a fault. However, one cannot help but get the feeling that Jessica’s testing the waters with this record: that it is a direction-maker but not a record that contains hallmark, anthemic songs that will truly flesh out more from her writer side. I have a sneaky suspicion the best is yet to be heard because Jessica seems to be holding back the power she could possess in her vocal chords. We shall see, but for now, it is a record that will sit well for some easy listening.
We are giving away 2 copies to Jessica Irawan’s debut album Stepping Out. Simply look out for our Facebook post on Friday, May 4, 12pm on our Facebook page.
Jessica Irawan’s album is out at Esplanade’s music store. Download “Don’t You Love Me”, “Impossible” and “I’m Still Feeling You” free on her Bandcamp page.