Tough Love is available via:
Pop Soul, Indie Pop, Quiet Storm, R&B
Two years on from the release of Devotion; Jessie Ware is back- and sounding stronger than ever. Tough Love mixes ’80s Prince beats with minimalist seduction: providing a tantalising insight as to what her follow-up album will possess.
THE mainstream coffers are stuffed with jewels and all sorts of shiny objects…
for the devoted music-lover. If your bag is band music, then there is an ample stock: any variation and kind of sound is on offer- ranging in genres and styles. This is the case with regards to the solo realm: multitudes of performers and talent are eager and keen to seduce hearts and minds. The quality can be variable at best-it is always difficult trying to discover something (or someone) genuinely worthy and impressive. Even if you do come across a potent and vibrant musician, there is the issue of longevity: a lot of time the appeal and magic can wear thin by the time the second album arrives. Jessie Ware is an artist that managed to scintillate and encapsulate large swathes of the music-buying public: her unique (yet pleasingly familiar) music resonated strongly and struck a keen vein- before long, Ware was being proclaimed as one of the finest new acts in the world. Before I go into more detail, it is best to- for those unfamiliar with our heroine- provide some background:
“Jessie Ware is a proper pop star. With her soulful, melancholy vocal, effortlessly elegant songwriting skills and, of course, that striking slicked-back hair, she marks a new era for pop. Her outstanding debut album Devotion combines the ultra-modern feel of downtempo R&B and British electronic music with the melodrama of classic stars like Sade and Whitney Houston. “I’m ready and excited,” she says, of her impending stardom, before chucking in an earthy, “And I got to make a bloody lovely record, with people who are lovely, so I need to enjoy it! But it nearly didn’t happen at all. South London born Jessie started singing at school, inspired by the romance of her mother’s Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter tapes, appearing in musicals and picking up some classical training along the way. But then she got to university and her life began to veer in a different direction. “I didn’t think it was ever going to be possible,” she admits, having put her dreams of being a singer on hold. “It always broke my heart a bit. I couldn’t even do it as a past-time, because it made me feel too sick to only half do it…In the States, Jack’s guitarist introduced her to the music of a new producer he knew, now going by the name SBTRKT. He lived down the road from her in Tooting, and as soon as she got home, she went round to his house. “I didn’t think I could do it,” she admits. Appropriately, they ended up writing a song called Nervous. “It ended up being a lead vocal. SBTRKT sent it to Numbers, who wanted to put it out. He said, ‘Because this is a lead vocal, we should have it as SBTRKT And Jessie Ware, not just featuring.’ I thought, this is amazing. I’m going to have a song on a really cool label, and whatever happens, I’ve got a vinyl…Her debut album Devotion contains that effortless poise within 11 laid-back, soulful pop songs that run the spectrum of sweet and dark. “I feel like I’ve been allowed to push it with the melodrama,” she smiles. “Like [early single] Running was me thinking of Whitney Houston’s Queen Of The Night and romantic film scenes from the 80s, where the guy sees the girl at the prom…” The title track, she says, is the first song she wrote with Dave Okumu from the Invisible, who would become a key part of the making of the album. “That’s why I wanted the album to be called that, because it’s where it started. That’s when I felt like a singer, and could express myself in the way that I wanted, with the music I wanted”… The upbeat nu-soul swing of Sweet Talk (“one of my favourite songs”) is about someone trying to pull you in even though you’re trying to stay away, sung with flirtatiousness, but also a hint of danger. Night Light may seem dark, with its remarkable and dense shimmering layers and lines about shadows and ghosts, but actually, Jessie says, “the essence of it is very sweet. It’s about my boyfriend, and being scared of the dark, and him just… being there… Devotion takes a look at other relationships, too, not just romantic ones. Next single, the tentatively desperate Wildest Moments is of particular significance to her. “It’s about my relationship with my best friend. We love and hate each other. I never fight with anybody more than her. She’s the person who told me I was an idiot and asked me why I wasn’t singing when I have a voice, so she means a lot to me… It’s about those extremes of being amazing and awful together.” Taking In Water, meanwhile, all-powerful choral melancholy, is a message of support for her younger brother. “I’m proud of that one because it’s really emotional. My brother was going through a hard time, and I love him dearly, and we’ve never been very good at speaking to each other, so I put it in a song. I don’t even think he’s heard it!”
Devotion (Ware’s debut album) was released back in 2012: in the ensuing years, Ware has been busy recording and touring; she has been plotting the steps that will form the basis of her second L.P. Last week, Zane Lowe hailed Tough Love as his ‘Hottest Record’: that airplay led to many enfevered fans scurrying to YouTube- and paying their respects to the song’s wonder. There is no firm release date for Ware’s new album, yet all the signs are very positive: she is instilled with a new creative lease- as well as the interest and ears of many new supporters.
Jessie Ware’s first album was hotly received when it dropped a couple of years back. Many critics were keen to note the diversity and range that ran rampant across the album’s eleven tracks: Ware seemed adept at effortlessly blending genres and sounds to create a harmonious whole. Adult Contemporary, smooth and sexy Soul and sophisticated Pop mixed with signs and embers of past mistresses- Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet and Lisa Stansfield stand out firmest. It is not only the cross-pollination and breadth of sound that made Devotion a synonym for excellence- Ware’s vocal allure stands out strongest. Unlike many of her peers, Ware’s voice came across as mature and powerful: there were no infantile histrionics or twee-voiced offerings. The album’s culture of Art-Pop and Alternative R&B stood out from the competition for two reasons: Ware’s elegance and stunning vocal beauty lifted every song; the album came across as a bona fide classic- something you could call ‘proper music’. Too many contemporary examples fill their records with immaturity and shallowness: there is still too much generic and vague outpouring- Ware (despite being 27 when the album came out) sounded utterly assured and fully formed. Those expecting the heartache and all-consuming passion that Devotion provided will not be disappointed: Tough Love has a tender soul, yet adds more depth and punch into the agenda. The song contains all of Ware’s unique personality traits, yet is it imbued with a renewed strength and confidence that are deeply impressive: our heroine has fight in her, as well as torment. Devotion saw Ware compared to the likes of Stansfield and Moyet; yet her latest insight sees Prince come to mind: his early-’80s work comes through when you hear Tough Love’s low-beat beauty.
If you are new to Jessie Ware’s cause- where have you been for the last few years?- then it is hard to compare her with too many: she has edges of idols such as Lennox, yet is a wholly unique and striking voice- it is the emotions and feelings she summons up that are familiar. If you love strong female artists (those with a determined voice and strong soul) then you need to invest in Jessie Ware. There is heartache and introvertedness in her music; her stunning range and immense vocal capacity will win over everyone: unlike a lot of modern-day acts, Ware is not a niche act or minor star- there is ubiquity and universality in her tones. Potent and breathless R&B, mature Pop and hypothesising Soul found their way into Devotion– if any of these genres appeal to you, then you should definitely investigate Ware. One of the most abiding and forceful elements of our heroine’s music is the conviction and relatability that is instilled within every track: it is the perfect antidote to the plastic and recycled Pop that permeates and obsesses the mainstream.
Tough Love starts out with some subtle temptation: a combination of bubbling electronics and duel percussive slams (acting as punctuation) are evocative and emotive. Early touches of Prince (Little Red Corvette) do come through, but Ware’s projection and introductory line carries its own weight: the way that she manages to make the simplest and sparsest of sonics compel and entrance have to be commended- and spikes anticipation for what is to come. When Ware steps up to the microphone, her voice may stun (her fans and those familiar with her)- the vocal here is more experimental and daring. Whereas Devotion saw our heroine present duskier and lower-toned vocals, here there is a high-pitched and crystalline sound: Ware’s voice is breathy but deliciously sweet and pin-sharp. Early words may well hint at some form of positivity: “It’s a really good sign that you hold my mind/It’s true.” Anyone thinking that events are taking a turn towards the better are in for a surprise: it seems that an argument or riff have left their marks. Ware’s voice never becomes overwhelmed or over-emotive: when speaking of anxiety and consideration (“I’ve been thinking of what to say all night to you“) there is plenty of urgency and authority- yet our heroine’s voice remains delicate and balletic. The accusatory nature of Tough Love continues, as Ware asks her lover if he has figured out what he needs to- there is a sense that the infantile suitor is dealing with things in the worst way possible. As well as the consistent and bare-naked percussive beat (that pervades and bolsters the mood), you are struck by the intelligence and vividness of the words. As Ware’s voice becomes settled and slowed-down, she offers some insight: “When your heart becomes a million different pieces/That’s when you all be able to recognise its feelings.” As well as being a potent and memorable offering, the way the lines are vocalised are particularly stirring: Ware’s lower tones rushes in waves; with nary a second for breath, the vocals engulf and dominate proceedings- and ensure that every words sticks inside of your head. That is what tough love is- realising what your heart wants when it is broken into fragments- our heroine explains; she formalizes her authority, and provides some cold truths (to her sweetheart)- and perhaps to herself too. The defragmentation of relations have caused Ware sleeplessness: in the second verse she confesses that “In the middle of the night/All I think about is you.” The beat and delineations do not change; Ware’s high vocals come back- yet the sense of nerves and pain (in verse two) come to the fore. Ware pleads to her beau not to be a typical man: she wants him back but wishes he could conspire with her- instead of rebel and run away. By the time the chorus swings back around, the listener feels a sense of sympathy and exhaustion: Ware’s cooing vocals- combined with the shadowy and spiky composition- enforces and emphasises the sense of loneliness and aching. The final moments see our heroine provide earnest declaration: “You have me crying out, crying out for more.” Ware’s voice (at this stage) sweats with desire; breathless and bereft, there is a tangible sense of longing and desperation- as well as nerve-shredding beauty. With a final injection of heavy-beat heartbeat; a sojourn of electronic pummel- the track reaches its end.
Written in collaboration with BenZel (the duo of Benny Blanco and Two Inch Punch), Tough Love is a multipart triumph. Having already been a fan of Jessie Ware, my respect has duplicated. After a stay away from the spotlight, many would expect diminished returns or predictability: what is provided is not only a fresh and unexpected gem, but a reinvigorated and determined mandate. Ware has superceded critical expectation, and unveiled a song that does not disappoint: the new sound direction augments and emphasises her stunning voice. Lyrics-wise, Tough Love is a clever beast: there is finger-wagging and soul-searching; accusation and pining- our heroine displays her vulnerability and honesty with incredible brushstrokes. Flat-out emotion and oblique poeticness mingle together; picturesque twilight scenes sit with introverted confessions: few other tracks this year have (or will) have the same effect that Tough Love does. Ware’s vocal is stunning- in an interview she claimed she was experimenting with her voice- and consistently gripping: her innate sense of diversity, pace and conviction brings emotion, force and beauty out with clarity- it is one of the most effecting and mesmeric vocal turns you will hear in a while. The composition and production are to be applauded, too. Every punchy note and woozy electronic uttering is presented in high-definition clarity: too many tracks suffer due to poor production, yet here the quality and sense of intelligibility makes the song a huge triumph. It is hard to say if- when Ware brings out her new album- its tone will reflect that of Tough Love: it may be a one-off but one suspects that we will hear more songs like this- Ware sounds comfortable and assured in her new skin. Her latest single is one that speaks to everyone who has had their heart-broken (pretty much everyone in the world), yet shows a unique and singular back story: one I hope will inspire new material (but not cause Ware too much pain).
The Internet is already hyperventilating with excitement following Tough Love’s release. Like a fond love that has been overseas for a couple of years- Ware’s musical return is a similar relief and cause for huge anticipation. A new album is starting to take shape (although it may not be released this year) and speculation is afoot: it will be fascinating to see what shape and direction a new Jessie Ware album takes. Tough Love sticks in the mind because of its wonderfully emotive and compelling vocal performance; stunningly tender and sparse composition- as well as its direct and accessible words. Devotion was (and still is) a startling testament and audacious debut: rife with confidence and professionalism, it is the sound of a young woman born to make her mark. Her first song since Devotion shows Ware in fervent mood: she has not missed a beat; instead a possible new direction has been hinted at. Whatever form her next album takes, I cannot see her slipping or turning in anything sub-par: she is an artist that has struck gold- and not about to let that go. Being still in her 20s, Ware is going to have to prepare herself for many, many more years in the music business- and years more of critical acclaim. All that we do know for certain, is that Ware will not rest on her laurels: she will not simply duplicate Devotion (on her next L.P.); but allow her curiosity and personal stories to paint fresh and vibrant pictures. The subjects of all-encompassing love, all-out heartbreak and anxiety are as common and well-trodden as any topic of music you can think of: ensuring that your version of events transcends everyone else’s takes a special talent indeed. For now, we have been treated to an alluring number: a song that subverts all expectations (of Ware) and stands out as possibly her finest piece of work to date. After the dust of public adulation starts to settle, surely it will provide Ware with ample impetus and creative fuel- as well as provide much-deserved patronage and energy. The modern scene is overpopulated and overflowing with music of all varieties: too few musicians offer something worth sticking with. Ware is one of the finest female singer-sonwriters in the world: one capable of ostracising the wheat as well as providing inspiration to up-and-coming acts. If Tough Love is anything to go by, whatever Ware has in her mind…
WILL be a hell of a thing to witness.
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