by: Jesse McCartney

Like any 21-year-old, Jesse McCartney is eager to prove that he's no longer a kid, something that the very title of his third album, Departure, makes plain. Departure isn't merely a break from his Radio Disney past, it's also a departure from the stuffy adult contemporary vibe of 2006's Right Where You Want Me, which found the then-teenager acting far older than his years. Despite McCartney's role as a co-author of Leona Lewis' international blockbuster "Bleeding Love," the song that defined the new wave of mature pop in 2007/2008, Jesse is smart enough to act age appropriate here, patterning himself after the ultimate new millennial teeny bopper turned player, Justin Timberlake. McCartney dips heavily into JT's bag of tricks, recycling some Off the Wall grooves and draping his ballads in icy analog synths straight out of FutureSex/LoveSounds, moves so transparent they could hardly be called thefts -- they're more like savvy marketing. As always, McCartney's strength is his flair for playing the pop game with sincerity, happily giving himself over to the clichés as that's what the rules demand. Sometimes, this can lead to awkward situations -- Sean Garrett does well as the producer of "How Do You Sleep?" but the duet on "Rock You" is too insistent -- but more the canny calculation of Departure is appealing, as McCartney has a weakness for big melodic hooks, a weakness that is better heard here than on "Bleeding Love" (his own version of which is added as a bonus track to some international pressings of the album). So, in sound and style Departure is a successful maturation for Jesse McCartney, yet there is a wrinkle in his master plan: his thin, boyish voice hasn't caught up to his sensibility. This causes some disconnect between the singer and the song -- the overtly randy "Into Ya" sounds declawed -- but it's not enough to spoil an otherwise solid transition into adulthood from McCartney. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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