Review Summary: To live my life fearlessly.
What intrigues me about Jessie Ware
is that she defies the norm as a pop star. From her breakthrough in a collaborative effort to contribute a song to the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, the South Londoner's rise seems somehow out of nowhere. (Yes, you read it right.) Yet, somehow, her solo works are relatively eclipsed by these collaborative efforts, even with the promising debut that is Devotion
. Her recording career has put on hold ever since the disappointing tour for Glasshouse
and its diminished reception, despite it displayed her capability as a soulful vocalist. As a result, she ventured towards a rather curious turn to host a food podcast with her mother and wrote a cookbook. (Again, you are not mistaken) When I read an article about her food podcast, it seems to me that she has put her day job aside, especially that her mother has told her to give up music.
To another surprising left-turn, Ware did not listen to her dear mom and instead record another album, What’s Your Pleasure？
. Working with James Ford, who has worked with Ware in Tough Love
, the South London vocalist has presented an album that serves her most exciting and vitalized effort in years.
For starters, stylish, danceable music is one of the key consistent features that accentuate Ware’s brand new personality in the album. The opener “Spotlight” and the irresistible “Save a Kiss” are the prime example: The former is perhaps a lost track from the soulful pop of Devotion
, begin with a typical string and piano accompaniment of a typical adult contemporary pop song with Ware’s sultry whispers, it later morphed into a dance track thanks to a sumptuous sonic seabed of pulsating rhythm sections, swirling strings, layered backing vocals, disco guitar scratches and the ghostly harps, while Ware crooned about a relationship falling apart (“Ain't enough to say that I think of you/Words can never do the things that I need them to
”), yet she yearns to turn back the clock and start over (“If I had everything my way/We'd travel back and forth and back again
”); The latter, on the other hand, is a Robyn
electro-pop meets old-school disco, with Euro-dance synths and beats and rapturous strings, Ware sings about the nervousness in a love at first sight(“Don't know how you do it, you're always striking the match
”) and the ecstatic high of experiencing it(“Now my heart is racing/Passing all the places we’ve been
”), while asking her crush to save a kiss for her. While it may sound like a typical love song, “Save a Kiss” perhaps could be translated as an unhealthy obsession on a crush, apparent in the line “Say you want no lips but mine/Save the thought of me tonight
”. It might be far-fetched, but this shows that Ware has preserved her matured approach in her songwriting that gelled in Glasshouse
Indeed, Ware’s persona in the album is more similar to various dance music and R&B-funk musicians. Whether is it the artsy finesse of Irish diva Roisin Murphy
(the Ruby Blue
-dance pop “Step Into My Life” and the melancholic dance anthem “Mirage(Don’t Stop)”), the sleek charm of Goldfrapp (the chiming “Adore You”), the slick funk of Janet Jackson(the indelible “Soul Control”, the rubbery bass-driven “Ooh La La” and the sassy introspection “Read My Lips”), the sensual beauty of Massive Attack (the synth bass arpeggio-driven “In Your Eyes”), the dark drama of Kate Bush(the cinematic “The Kill”), the angelic melody of Minnie Riperton (the space-age-meets-Motown “Remember Where You Are”), or even the mesmerizing presence of Queen of Disco that is Donna Summer(the neon-lit sequel to “I Feel Love” that is the title track), each track sounds like nothing in the singer’s previous output. Some may say this direction somehow undermines the singer's vocal talent, trading the Whitney Houston vocal weightlifting for the lesser, airy vocal acrobats. Yet I disagree since both have married together successfully into an enchanting brew of music without losing the singer’s signature elegance while gleaming her newfound charisma as a captivating performer.
The songwriting here is impeccable as well. While the lyrics do steer away from the mature introspection in Glasshouse
, it is far from a single-dimension pop record. Including the aforementioned “Spotlight” and “Save a Kiss”, the album is filled with lyrics that tinged with a nuanced and sometimes cheeky outlook on romantic dramas and sexual escapades. Whether is it a steamy yet wicked stab at frivolous one-night stands (the title track, “Step Into My Life” and “Ooh La La”), or the caricature of an unhealthy and abusive relationship (“Adore You”, “Soul Control”, “Mirage(Don’t Stop)”), a satire on unrealistic romance ideals (“Read My Lips”), or the letting go from the pain of a breakup (“In My Eyes”), Ware and the songwriters have delivered lyrics that are both euphoric and mature. The closing two tracks that are “The Kill” and “Remember Where You Are” are, however, the two strongest moments in terms of songwriting. The nocturnal former is perhaps the most bittersweet moment in the album, where she laments about the lack of healthy communication (“You wanna show me you love me/But forget how to reach me
”), and shrugs off at his hypocrisy (”I know you better than yourself, honey, only I know
”) and his overwhelming affection (“Don’t try to kill me with your love
”). The latter, meanwhile, is the most cheerful and upbeat tune in the album, camouflaging the lyrics that are apocalyptic(“The heart of the city is on fire/Sun on the rise, the highs are gonna fall
”) and political (“We are the last ones of our kind/Freedom of our hearts and mind
”) with a romantic and anthemic edge, as if Ware is singing a call to arms to her listeners to rise in the Johnson-era in her native UK. With such a blend of mature commentary with dance-club ready joy, this elevates the singer's maturity as an artist and thus solidifying the record as a triumph in her discography.
Yes, Ware’s vocals have not put in the forefront like previous albums, which buried by the lavish production, and that some tracks may sound similar to each other. Not to mention that the single “Overtime”, which bridged between Glasshouse
and this album, did not make to the cut. Yet, it was such flaws that reflect a new side of Jessie Ware: a care-free woman who wants to enjoy her night at the clubs, yet is fully aware of the potential consequences. Clocking in at 53 minutes, What’s Your Pleasure？
is a tour de force that proved Ware is still capable of delivering indelible earworms without losing her maturity and consistency. To put it shortly, Ware gave us a record of what we need right now: One for us to have some fun.
Personal Rating : 4.4/5
Save a Kiss
Remember Where You Are