Music

Jessie Ware: Devotion

Jessie Ware's glorious solo debut Devotion is a far cry from the UK bass of her prior collaborations, and is twice the record for it.


Jessie Ware

Devotion

Label: Island
US Release Date: 2012-08-21
UK Release Date: 2012-08-20
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Jessie Ware is one of many female vocalists to rise to fame down to her feature spots, seemingly the go-to point for any budding young singer in the UK in 2012 (and 2011 and 2010 for that matter). But a lot of these vocalists stumble and fall at the first hurdle when they go for the dreaded solo record, simply because their feature spots protected them from the horrible truth that a solo artist needs to own their own record, rather than the producers shaping their sound.

Clapham born Jessie was rewarded with a record contract after featuring on SBTRKT's jittery bass anti-anthem "Nervous" in 2010. The following year she went on to work with SBTRKT again, with his frequent collaborator Sampha and with dubstep producer Joker, and the dark, bass heavy tracks that resulted showcased the sultry, wispy tone of her voice, both subdued and compelling, commanding even.

But it was on Joker's "The Vision", that we first heard her roar, and there was no doubt that Ms. Ware was no mere feature singer. And in true proof of her talent, her glorious solo debut Devotion is a far cry from the UK bass of her prior collaborations, and is twice the record for it. A record of sexy, sensual R&B with more than a few flecks of '80s soul, it flitters around a few genres, whilst remaining absolutely cohesive and incredibly enjoyable.

When one first hears Jessie's solo material, the most obvious touchstone to reference is Sade, who's haunting lovesongery and husky murmurs can be heard often in Ware's material, particularly in gorgeous single "Running", in which Ware's tale of love and war fits the Sade mould like a glove, bringing to mind "No Ordinary Love" or "Kiss of Life". It simmers in a pool of warm pads before blooming into a passionate serenade, and Ware's voice is quite simply stunning at the climax. "Sweet Talk" follows in its footsteps later on, but takes on the livelier elements of '80s soul, with an effortlessly sexy bounce and Jessie lets the phrase "you gimme the sweet talk, and it works for me" roll off her tongue suggestively.

Despite letting go most of the electronic productions she would previously have sat comfortably with, it's not all downbeat. An early trio of tracks, "Still Love Me", "No To Love" and upcoming single "Night Light" flirt with funk, new jack swing and rock respectively. The infectious, repetitious groove of "Still Love Me", the sexy hip hop vibe of "No To Love" and the sassy, anthemic "Night Light" are all single material, and in fact, throughout the entirety of Devotion there's not one track that doesn't live up to the last.

As far as standout tracks are concerned, "110%" is the closest thing to the underground dance of her past projects. Ethereal pads are carried by a busy click'n'clap beat, and Jessie's normally natural, flowing voice is heavily compressed but gentle to the point of almost whispering, and her staccato, mumbled vocals create the effect of her whispering sweet nothings in your ear. It's not quite a club track, not quite a chillout number, and in this dismissal of fitting a genre, it once again relies on Jessie's presence to define it, and as her voice finally gracefully elevates in the bridge, definition seems so unimportant.

The majority of the album is produced by Dave Okumu of experimental rock band The Invisible, and that band's electronica tinged dark pop can be heard most clearly here on the titular opener. The darkest, most sinister track here, it feels like either a confession or a pledge, as Ware murmurs "the end of us never hurt so much, I need your devotion". Ware gives her most understated performance on the record, and ironically her most anonymous, but the track's hypnotic, uneasy lurch calls for this delivery. It opens the album in a misleadingly eerie manner, because the placing of the commercial, bright pop ballad "Wildest Moments" straight after is an unexpected and perfectly pitched move.

Going from the album's darkest moment to its most uplifting shows us Ware's incredible versatility, and even the slightest change of expression and volume in her voice can give a track new life. More so than on any track she has featured on before, Ware lives and breathes every word she sings. The delicately sung but emotionally charged "Wildest Moments" is, albeit by a nose, the track that shows this most convincingly, and its no surprise that this is because the production is simple, stripped back and the focus is all on Ware, her voice and the words she sings. And boy does she sing them.

We are very much in the era of celebrity producers, and whilst there are many UK female singers making their name off the backs of the Bengas, Skreams and SBTRKTS in the UK electronic dance scene, Ware is head and shoulders above this throng because, as Devotion unquestionably proves, with flying colours, her voice is just too remarkable to hide behind. Any song Jessie sings, she makes her own. In an industry of singers defined by the music behind them, Jessie Ware can only be defined as the best voice of 2012. And that, as talented as Dave Okumu, Kid Harpoon and Julio Bashmore are, is something her producers had nothing to do with.

9


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.