Jessie Ware: Tough Love

On Jessie Ware’s second album, Tough Love, there’s a deeply weird song that could potentially infiltrate the mainstream—not in spite of its sonic alien quality, but because of it. “Keep On Lying” sounds like a gospel choir singing atop a chintzy keyboard stuck on the “bossa nova” setting, yet it’s easy to picture “So You Think You Can Dance” hopefuls popping-and-locking to it. This delicate balance is lightning-bolt brilliance that may not even strike once in a career for most artists, but Jessie Ware has made the balance appear effortless several times already in her young career, a talented pop vocalist who projects an interesting taste in music and a canny know-how in regards to the up-and-coming electronic producers she chooses to work with.

Ware’s musical vision revolves around genuine curation and experimentation when it comes to sounds that don’t appear as often in today’s pop music landscape. Sure, there’s plenty of divas who have embraced their quirky sides, from Kylie Minogue’s Impossible Princess to Madonna’s Ray of Light to Katy Perry’s two-minute preoccupation with 1990s dance-pop vocalist CeCe Peniston last year. But rarely does a major-label pop singer sound as tasteful as Ware does, especially while avoiding the sleepy trappings of Adult Contemporary. At its best, Ware’s music sounds truly exciting without sounding as if it’s trying too hard to come across that way, and as such Tough Love isn’t packed with explicit experimentation. Following her excellent 2012 debut Devotion, Ware is engaging with a variety of genres that stand to introduce her to new, different listeners with ears tuned to the mainstream. Some of these songs, like the midtempo disco banger “Want Your Feeling” or the xx-smacking “Sweetest Song”, properly fit Ware rather than coming across as the singer playing dress-up.

On the other end of the spectrum, top-40’s hobbit du jour Ed Sheeran plays a key role with a co-writing credit on the swooning acoustic ballad “Say You Love Me”, a soulful and catchy number that nonetheless doesn’t exactly reinvent the pop-music wheel. That’s a fine enough standard for many singers who are not Ware, but her past work has suggested that she’s better than that. The same could be said of the album’s most clichéd lyrical moment, the BenZel-produced “Champagne Kisses”, which sounds more like a Miguel B-side than the two Tough Love songs the R&B singer actually contributed to—namely, the mushy “You & I (Forever)” and sexting-my-exes anthem “Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe”, the latter of which functions as the album’s highlight.

Part of the increased variety on Tough Love stems from a more diverse array of collaborators, from producer Emile Haynie (Eminem, Lana Del Rey) to Blood Orange‘s Devonté Hynes; it’s also due to a wider emotional range of lyrical themes, as well as an increased show of confidence on Ware’s part. Her music has moved past exuding the type of smoldering desire that borders just slightly on desperation, moving into the territory of real, messy love; accordingly, her vocal power throughout the album facilitates this shift, which speaks to her impressive versatility in this stage of her career. You get the sense that pretty much any style could be Ware’s if she commits to it, but for now it’s nice to hear her explore a level of sophistication as her star continues to rise. 

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork