Album of the week: Tough Love by Jessie Ware
It's been a knockout year for women in pop music. What men are writing and singing with this kind of emotion, panache and sexiness? The James Blakes and Abel Tesfayes and Frank Oceans of yesteryear have been eclipsed. Now comes Jessie Ware, who kicks up the sound another notch with her gorgeous sophomore album, Tough Love.
The album opens strong with the title track, which wobbles and fries with white noise before releasing a smooth, pulsating synth beat. Ware's voice comes in, like melted chocolate: "So you wanna be a man about it?/ Do you?" She sounds as if she's singing suspended somewhere between sleep and waking, or perhaps, between life and death. "That's called tough love."
Ostensibly, Ware's sound mirrors and mimics so much of what's popular these days: vague club vocals, a certain twilight pathos, a calculated weirdness. Sam Smith is an obvious comparison, but the album is so tightly woven, so carefully considered that it sounds exciting and new. Her influences aren't so recent either: echoes of Whitney Houston and Sade abound.
The album is full of tender, wounded romance. "Feels like heaven in hell/ Is it real/ I can't tell", she sings on Keep On Lying. Ware is most effective when she takes her time and plays around - on You & I (Forever), Sweetest Song, Champagne Kisses, and Keep On Lying. She holds back, never overshooting into the bombastic or cloying. At her worst, she's slightly stale and kitschy, as on Cruel and Want Your Feeling.
More often, she keeps it classy, singing about love and loss in a convincing manner that many will understand.