Jesse McCartney has grown, and you can hear it on 'Departure'
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The Orlando Sentinel (MCT) - In the old days, when record companies used to invest time in an artist, the third album was often the one to make or break a career.
At 21, pop star Jesse McCartney says he understands that notion. He calls "Departure," his third release, his most fully realized effort yet.
"I definitely worked really hard on this one, put a lot of time into it," says McCartney. "I'm really happy for the first time about an album."
The project teamed McCartney with an A-list roster of producers, including The Dream (Rihanna's "Umbrella"), Sean Garrett (Usher) and Eric Hudson (Kanye West). One of the songs that didn't make the cut, "Bleeding Love," became a monster hit for Leona Lewis.
Musically, hit singles such as "How Do You Sleep?," "Leavin' " and "It's Over" push McCartney into R&B territory that has been compared with Justin Timberlake's post boy-band material. The singer, who juggles his music with an acting career, looked farther back for influences, he says.
"I listened to a lot of older records, like late-'80s/early-'90s Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna _ mainly for production value," he says. "I was really into what records sounded like in that time: how epic they were. I wanted to have singles on this album that sounded epic, anthemic and big."
"How Do You Sleep?," its popularity fueled by a hit remix with rapper Ludacris, blends a catchy chorus with bittersweet lyrics about a guy's lingering feelings about an ex-lover. Much of the album is steeped in such romanticism, a reaction to McCartney's 2007 break-up with girlfriend Katie Cassidy. In addition to his growing musical confidence, McCartney professes to know more about love and life now, too.
"I really feel like, for the first time, I know what a true relationship is with a woman," he says. "I really feel like I know what commitment is and know what it means. When I get to a different place and I get older there will be other things I want to write about. At this time, these things came flowing out of me."
Even at such a young age, McCartney is already a show-business veteran. As a child, he was singing on Broadway and acting in "All My Children." That gig led to a part in the WB teen drama Summerland.
He works to balance work in front of the camera with his music. In March, McCartney will appear in a story line on ABC Family's comedy "Greek."
That follows a turn this past fall on the drama "Law and Order: SVU," but McCartney doesn't take everything he's offered. He turned down a chance to be in the cast of director M. Night Shyamalan's big-screen adaptation of Nickelodeon's "The Last Airbender" to focus on his tour.
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"It's a total balancing act," McCartney says. "Everyday there's always something I could be doing. It's all about timing."
At an earlier point in his career, McCartney says, there were business forces in his own camp pulling him in different directions at the same time. The plan is more coordinated now, he says.
"I'm the face of an operation of 50 or 60 people I work with who are pushing this train," he says. "My biggest goal was to get them to work together for the overall big picture."
Sometimes that means passing up an opportunity.
"The case of the M. Night Shyamalan is a perfect example," he says. "There's so much going on behind this album, I did have to opt out, unfortunately. It will be a big movie, but I have no regrets."
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On the music side, McCartney is preparing to release an expanded edition of "Departure" on April 7. It will include the Ludacris remix of "How Do You Sleep" and four new songs, "so fans will have something to hold them over until I'm ready to make a new album."
McCartney knows that the territory between teen star and adult hasn't always been successfully navigated. He's optimistic that he can do it.
"I've had to be very patient,' he says. "Growing up in the industry, I've tended to want to grow up faster.
"It's very easy to get carried away and push the envelope too fast and too much, but I've always been honest about what I do and about my music. I know how far I can go without being uncomfortable."
He sees "Departure" as the first step in his transition.
"In the first months after the release, I was looking at the fan comments and the consensus was 'This is Jesse? I'm not sure.'
"They had to ease into it, like I did. Eventually, everyone jumped on board."
© 2009, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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