Jessie Ware is the UK’s most likeable mainstream pop star; I struggle with mega-sellers like Adele and Ed Sheeran, but Ware’s low-key personality is adorable. Her 2012 debut Devotion was packed with great songs, but she suffered from diminishing returns with her following releases. She’s roared back into the ‘Spotlight’ with 2020’s What’s Your Pleasure, focusing on delightful retro-disco.
Ware grew up in London, raised by her Jewish mother. Her father is a BBC reporter and her sister is a prominent actor, making Ware’s down-to-earth personality more remarkable. Ware also hosts a food podcast with her mother and is a UNICEF ambassador.
Ware’s vocals are warm and agile, but her low-key personality means she never overwhelms the song. She’s enjoyed more critical acclaim than commercial success to date. Her pop music has hints of blue-eyed soul and sophisti-pop with clear debts to the 1980s. Sade is an obvious reference point, while Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan guested on 2017’s Glasshouse.
Jessie Ware Album Reviews
After working in journalism and television, Ware started her musical career singing backing vocals for Jack Peñate and Man Like Me. She began working with producer SBTRKT – the pair released the 2010 single ‘Nervous’. She also sang backing vocals on Florence and the Machine’s 2011 album Ceremonials. This led to a record deal for Ware; her main collaborator on her debut is Dave Okumu from The Invisible. Devotion is a terrific debut, delivering an album of sophisticated and soulful pop; if there’s a critique, it’s that the best tracks overshadow the rest of the album.
The singles are generally great – ‘Running’ mixes a driving bass pulse with a great guitar riff, while Ware gently navigates the pretty melody of ‘110%’. Later singles are even better – ‘Wildest Moments’ is the record’s most memorable tune, and ‘Night Light’ has a lovely cello part and its memorable chorus evokes the 1980s. The best deep cut is ‘Taking In Water’, about Ware’s relationship with her brother, with a gorgeous middle eight and pre-chorus.
Devotion is a very accomplished debut from Ware, overshadowing her next two releases.
Devotion was successful, reaching the UK top 5, and Ware’s second album was recorded with a wider array of collaborators. Miguel and Ed Sheeran are among the big names involved in the creation of Tough Love. Yet it’s somehow a more modest record than the debut, mostly a collection of low key, smooth, and endearingly honest R&B songs. It’s a good record, but a little disappointing after all the great songs on the debut.
‘Champagne Kisses’ opens out into an explosive chorus that showcases Ware’s gorgeous upper register. It towers above the rest of the record and it’s a shame that she doesn’t sing at full throttle more often. ‘Say You Love Me’ isn’t an exciting song, but it’s exhilarating when Ware lets loose in the coda. Elsewhere, Ware’s honesty is refreshing on tunes like the title track and the late night, smoky vibes of ‘Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe’.
Tough Love doesn’t measure up to Devotion, but it’s a classy pop album all the same.
Ware tried to rush out a sequel to Tough Love – pregnant with her first child, she tried to release it before the birth. She later told The Fader that her motivation was “Must provide. Must make a hit for my unborn child.” A friend convinced her that the album wasn’t up to scratch, and she reworked it for a later release. Despite the reworking, Glasshouse struggles to move her sound forward – it’s another likeable pop/soul album that’s under the shadow of Devotion. The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan guests on ‘Last of the True Believers’, while Ed Sheeran is on the closing ‘Sam’.
Ware is always enjoyable with her lovely voice and likeable personality, but too many of these songs are generic. Even my favourite, ‘Alone’, feels like routine soul-pop, and only takes flight because of its memorable vocal melody. Low-key acoustic songs provide a strong end to the record – ‘Sam’ is Ware’s most obviously biographical song in her biography, while ‘Last of the True Believers’ is sweeping and pretty.
Glasshouse is pleasant enough, but Ware was wise to reinvent herself with her next release.
What’s Your Pleasure?
Ware had previous dipped her toes into dance music – the 2013 non-album single ‘Imagine It Was Us’ previews the nu-disco sound she explores more fully on What’s Your Pleasure?. Ware devoted an entire album to delightful retro-disco, and roared back into relevance with 2020’s What’s Your Pleasure? What’s most striking about What’s Your Pleasure is the sheer musicality – it’s stuffed with great bass-lines and creative string arrangements. There’s plenty of reference points for pop geeks; the sonic experimentation on ‘Ooh La La’ recalls Berlin-era David Bowie, while the epic closing track ‘Remember Where You Are’ was conceived as an answer track to Minnie Riperton’s ‘Les Fleurs’.
The slick sophistication of tracks like ‘In Your Eyes’ recalls Sade, while Ware’s more forthright on songs like ‘Step Into My Life’. It’s the final track, though, that’s the highlight – ‘Remember Where You Are’ shimmers with retro grandeur. ‘The Kill’ shimmers with a menacing electro-throb, while Even though a clutch of four-minute tracks stretched over fifty minutes is a recipe for an uninspiring record, What’s Your Pleasure? is magnificent – at the time of writing it’s rated as the third best dance-pop album of all time on RateYourMusic, behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion.
What’s Your Pleasure? is a delight, Ware finding her calling as a dancefloor queen.
That! Feels Good!
Ware used the retro, disco sound of ‘Remember Where You Are’, the final track on What’s Your Pleasure, as a jumping-off point for her next record. It dials up the fun, arguably at the expense of emotional connection, but it’s a ton of fun anyway. It’s entertaining to hear Ware get brash on the bridge of ‘These Lips’ – “these lips are wanted in a hundred countries”.
There are energetic grooves behind impressive singles ‘Begin Again’ and ‘Free Yourself’. The momentum barely lets up – deep cuts like ‘Freak Me Now’ and ‘These Lips’ are loaded with strong hooks. ‘Shake The Bottle’ feels like a tribute to Girls Aloud.
That! Feels Good! lacks a little emotional resonance compared to Ware’s usual work, but it’s still a fine follow-up to a classic.
10 Best Jessie Ware Songs
Remember Where You Are
Ooh La La
Save A Kiss
Taking In Water
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