Having spent the last half-decade or so trying on many different hats to find which one suits her best - from dance club vocalist, to schmaltzy swooner, to finessed pop goddess - it is somewhat unsurprising, yet all the more satisfying, to see Jessie Ware return on her fourth record sounding more self-confident, self-aware, and sophisticated than she ever has been previously.
A career that has so far been littered with exquisite cuts of shifting sonic experiments from project-to-project has seen Ware hone her craft of pop songwriting, above all else. It has been evident, on her releases from 'Devotion', through 'Tough Love', to 'Glasshouse', that there was a genuinely brilliant mind behind all of those records. What this new album does is take that mind, and let it run free, unrestricted by ideas of genre-crossovers and commercial cut-through. Quite what it is that has given Ware the confidence to create such an endlessly-engrossing and explorative pop opus is sort of irrelevant, as the resulting album is her best to date.
It is a crying shame that for some out there still, the genre label of “pop” is greeted with a scrunched nose and a patronising gaze, as when at its best, there is very little that can artistically match it. On songs such as opener 'Spotlight' and new single 'Soul Control', Ware takes her early-career electronic and dance exploits and funnels them through a vision of audible ecstasy. It’s an early warning sign that this incarnation of Jessie Ware’s music is more unapologetically bold and fearless than ever before, something that comes to define the entire record.
Elsewhere, as on the gorgeous centrepiece 'Save A Kiss' - a track that is so well-produced that it genuinely took me aback when first listening to it - or 'Step Into My Life', a track co-penned by Kindness’ Adam Bainbridge, Ware exudes a sanguine femininity that emboldens lyrics that could quite easily be interpreted as insecure or dependent. They just feel like songs conceived by someone totally and unequivocally content with both who they are in themselves and in the wider world, a statement and observation that could be extended to the vast majority of the album as a whole.
Quite apart from being the pop album of the year so far, there seems to be something deeper going on here which only becomes more apparent upon the many revisits that this album is likely to elicit. Aside from Billie Eilish’s recent exploits on her debut album 'When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?', there has been a trend throughout the rest of pop music to be successful only whilst incorporating sounds of yesteryear.
On Dua Lipa’s fantastic new record 'Future Nostalgia', the foundations of the sound there originate from a movement and music conceived nearly forty years ago. Similarly, Robyn’s excellent album 'Honey' engages in tropes of previous golden ages of pop music. Where Jessie Ware has been clever on 'What’s Your Pleasure?' is to outline and deliver on a blueprint for pop music that feels genuinely contemporary, genuinely grown-up, genuinely authentic, and almost entirely devised for a generation at odds with those that have gone before them to an almost unprecedented level.
It is a beautiful, enigmatic, joyous, sultry, utterly fabulous and insanely-inventive album that delivers above and beyond its expectations, quite a feat for a record conceived by one of the best British artists around at the moment.
Words: Mike Watkins
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