Jessie Ware’s solo career began back in 2012 with her thrilling debut, Devotion. The album was an enormous success, thrusting Ware into the limelight and finding her a top place in many end-of-year lists and even end of decade round-ups. It is an effortlessly cool and exciting ode to love and fidelity. With a sensual sophistication Devotion put Ware on the map. Following her debut, Ware has been on a rollercoaster. Her second album, Tough Love, again did not bestow Ware with the same brilliance and acclaim of her first release. Now on her fourth album, Jessie Ware is returning to her debut and those very same successful sensibilities.
What’s Your Pleasure is undoubtedly a return to form and a fearless reclaiming of the dance floor. The album oozes with Ware’s calm sophistication and sensuality. Ware’s approach to music-making is so effective. Her sensibilities and control are reminiscent of the Count Basie sound. Melodies and rhythm playing section slightly behind the beat — giving a cool, relaxed swagger. Sparse, small melodies that patiently wait to hit you with their full range and dynamic extremity. The reserved nature of both Count Basie’s and Jessie Ware’s music gives a much more exciting and vivid intensity. They’re the musical embodiment of the less is more argument we all so often quote.
A greater vibrancy is given to Ware’s music through her use of vast and contrasting instrumentation. The album begins with “Spotlight”, one of the five singles released in anticipation of the album. The track is a Jessie Ware down-tempo classic filled with soaring strings, 1980s synths, hip-shaking syncopation, UK Garage enthused beats and a casual effortlessness that is so alluring. As the album builds, so do they synths. The music becomes denser, enriched by each new synth timbre and layer. “Ooh La La” is Jessie Ware does disco. Brilliant syncopated synths, clicks, pops, and swooshes adorn this floor filler and make it blissfully infectious.
The strongest track on the album is “Save a Kiss”. If you only listen to one song from this album, then this should be it. Earlier I wrote about Ware’s great hill to climb to reclaim her early success, “Save a Kiss” does this and then some. Ware saved this single until last, the final amuse-bouche before the main meal. So much energy is created by the interplay between the arpeggiated synthesizers, sparse vocal melody, and string counter-melody. Yet, musically we feel subdued waiting at a besotted boiling point without any chance for release. The musical purgatory perfectly couples the lyrics of patience and longing. On “Save a Kiss”, Jessie Ware crafts a perfect late-night down-tempo jam that could, with a few minor tweaks, be released by Robyn, Roisin Murphy, or rising talent, Amber Mark.
The evolving instrumentation on What’s Your Pleasure comes full circle with the two closing tracks. The album began with shimmering strings and continued to evolve through a plethora of synthesizers and electronic instruments. In the penultimate track, “The Kill” the strings begin to come to the forefront again, as the arpeggiator fades, the synthesizers leave, and we return to the purely acoustic embellished by the newly introduced triumphant brass section. The progression is almost Dickensian acoustic to electronic to acoustic again. Finally, “Remember Where You Are” strips back all the dense electronic instrumentation and washes us clean. A purely acoustic arrangement now with soulful backing singers, a fuller and more prominent string section, electric bass replacing its synth counterpart. Soulfully Ware sounds reborn, strong, and empowered. This again is Jessie Ware showing her true class and full potential.
As much as Devotion remains Ware’s Magnum Opus. What’s Your Pleasure is a clear statement of intent, with a lot of quality. There are moments on this album where some songs are a little overlong and drawn out or times when the production clouds the overall delivery of the sentiment, the title track, for example. However, with her fourth album and after a somewhat tumultuous career, Jessie Ware is back in form. Dance floor, be warned.