Jessie Ware ‘Tough Love – Review

6 Nov

On 2012’s ‘Devotion’, Jessie Ware positioned herself perfectly in a world that suddenly found r&b and indie as bedfellows. With her powerful lungs and ear for a catchy pop melody, she seemed more likely than some of her peers to crossover in to the mainstream. She’s floating even further towards that end-goal on second album ‘Tough Love’, particularly on ‘Say You Love Me’, a song written by Ed Sheeran, that sounds exactly how you’d imagine an Ed Sheeran penned Jessie Ware song to sound. I like it. She uses her voice to great effect, pushing and pulling at the melody, building towards something climactic and emotionally resonant. Purists may wince at these concecions to the mainstream, but Jessie Ware has never been a purist; ‘Devotion’ was the bastard child of different styles and ideas, ‘Tough Love’ even more so.

Elsewhere she pairs down on the melodrama and peels back some of the more extravagant production features of the debut. Like The XX’s second album, ‘Coexist’, ‘Tough Lough’ finds Jessie Ware crafting a minimalist sound, pushing melodies to the forefront and holding back in most other areas. In the album’s weaker moments, the songs can sound like sketches, void of colour and fine detail, but in its most successful moments it becomes just the opposite – finely observed, expertly refined and deftly handled. The beats are clear and crisp, the sonic eccentricities highlight emotions from the margins, and the synths seem to pulsate in and out of focus.

It’s no surprise that ‘Tough Love’ sounds so gorgeous, the list of names behind the boards reads like a who’s who of this indie/r&b/pop crossover moment. As well as Jessie herself we have: Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), James Ford (Arctic Monkeys/Haim/Florence and the Machine), Miguel, Benny Blanco (Katy Perry/Britney) and Benzel. With so many people involved it could easily have turned in to a chaotic mess, but it never does. It’s held together by Jessie herself. She has a clear confidence and a good understanding of what makes pop music work. She is an auteur, if you are generous in allowing the definition to expand to somebody unafraid to collaborate when it is needed.

Another thing holding the album together is the thematic links between songs. Jessie explores love in depth; ‘Tough love’ ‘cruel love’, love that is spoken, love that is unspoken, love that is unrequited – you get the idea. Misery and melancholy is Ware’s forte, but she’s always one step removed from the crushing phase of heartbreak. These productions are too clean, polished and thoughtful to inflict any real sadness on the listener, and the lyrics come from a place of reflection. She’s thought about things, considered them and decided with a clear head what she is going to say and how she’s going to say it. It puts ‘Tough Love’ one notch below more impassioned and bruising heartbreak albums by Lykii Li, Sam Smith and Angel Olsen this year, but in other ways ‘Tough Love’ is more impressive. Ware’s voice is a silky smooth alternative to Lykii Li’s boom or Angel Olsen’s cry. The songs never quite penetrate emotionally but they skim the surface like birds skim gracefully along a lake. It’s a beautiful sound, and an optimistic vision of what mainstream pop could stand for in 2014 and beyond; something brave, diverse and feminine.

8/10

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