Julia Jacklin said that Celine Dion was her “spiritual guiding star” when she was working on the songs for her new album. That seems somewhat absurd, because the Australian singer/songwriter’s delicate, introverted folk pop doesn’t have much in common with the Canadian superstar’s highly dramatic, sometimes kitschy, over-the-top power ballads. Jacklin’s soft, brittle voice, more reminiscent of Aimee Mann or Nico from The Velvet Underground, is a world away from Dion’s powerful organ, which spirals up to operatic coloratura.

Julia Jacklin learned something other than compositional tricks or singing techniques from Céline Dion, who has adored her since she was a teenager: an attitude. That you don’t have to be afraid of big feelings, that it’s not always about being cool. Jacklin said in an interview that she had wanted to break out of the “indie rock world of coolness” for a long time. Because it can “feel very tight and suffocating”.

Her recently released third studio album “Pre Pleasure” is the document of a liberation. The singer has freed herself not only from strangers, but also from her own expectations. A departure that is also reflected in the more opulent sound, enriched with strings and brass.

In keeping with the folk tradition, Jacklin has always strived to be sincere and honest in her songs. The ten titles of “Pre Pleasure” seem like autobiographical pieces of a puzzle, with some of the lyrics would also work as short stories.

Like the standout opening track, “Lydia Wears a Cross,” in which the singer, to the pounding of a drum machine, recalls her childhood confusion as she prayed for Princess Diana, who had just died in a car accident, in Catholic RE class. And while the students thought faith was all about singing together, the teacher called for submission to the dogmas of the church: “Eyes to the board / Thoughts to our Lord.”

Julia Jacklin was born in Sydney 32 years ago. She grew up in a family of teachers in the Blue Mountains, a national park 50 kilometers away. Today she lives in Melbourne. At the age of ten she was enthusiastic about Britney Spears and took singing lessons. She also loved Doris Day, for a while she wanted to be Fiona Apple. Parallel to her studies in social policy, she pushed her music career, first in the indie band Phantastic Ferniture.

To finance the recording of her debut album, Don’t Let the Kids Win (2016), Jacklin worked at an essential oil factory. Her still quite puristic folk songs made it into the BBC Radio 6 program, the Australian media celebrated the singer as the “Next Big Thing” and she performed at the British Glastonbury Festival. With her more musically intricate album, Crushing (2019), Jacklin came to terms with a breakup and celebrated regaining her personal and physical autonomy. The record earned her an invitation from Lana Del Rey to sing a song from it – “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” – together on stage. Sometimes when she raises her voice, Jacklin actually sounds a little like Del Rey.

The failure of interpersonal communication as well as the delights and abysses of love are also recurring themes on “Pre Pleasure”. While Jacklin mantra-like repeats the union-refusal line “Am I gonna lose myself again” to post-punk electric guitars in the glisteningly bright indie-disco hit “I Was Neon”, she confesses in the piano ballad “Love, Try Not To Let Go” that she longs for nothing as much as love – and at the same time fears nothing more.

The saddest of the album’s bittersweet songs is called ‘Less Of A Stranger’ and deals with the singer’s relationship with her mother, who always seemed like a stranger to her. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, she sings “Never Gonna Know You” in a dull and cracked voice that seems to herald long futile struggles.

“Pre Pleasure” was recorded in September 2021 in Montreal, produced by Marcus Paquin, who has worked for The National, among others. Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett provided string arrangements which were recorded by an orchestra in Prague. Jacklin’s touring band members are based in Canada, some play full-time with big indie bands like The Weather Station or Arcade Fire. Incidentally, Montreal is also the city where Céline Dion grew up, Jacklin’s not so secret idol anymore.

Julia Jacklin said she used to be dissatisfied with herself, considered herself musically limited. “Today I know that I have skills and that I don’t have to feel inadequate because I don’t have all the skills.” Working with an orchestra was a dream that she probably wouldn’t have dared to realize before.

Now, “Pre Pleasure” features songs that only require Jacklin’s voice and a guitar or piano alongside tracks that swell to big, world-embracing pop. All that’s missing is a cover version of “My Heart Will Go On”.