On her fourth studio album, British singer Jessie Ware finally and fully pleases the fans: by embracing her flirtations with dance music.
It’s undeniable that the 80s have had a grand comeback in this year alone. We’ve already had The Weeknd’s dark and brooding After Hours, Dua Lipa’s throwback Future Nostalgia, Doja Cat’s viral Say So and even Lady Gaga’s Chromatica had hints of the golden era.
Jessie Ware is the latest singer to add her name to that expanding list, as What’s Your Pleasure takes us on a lush journey straight to the disco. While Ware’s debut in 2010 was on the upbeat Nervous with SBTRKT, her subsequent output has mostly been soulful, subdued and minimalist balladry.
The first half of the album throws that out the window, exchanging it instead for seductive coos beckoning hedonistic escapades. There’s the Kylie-sounding title track that sees her tempt like never before: “I know the way to make you happy / I give you love, you give it back to me,” she sings over a dizzying bassline.
There is no shortage of flirty, tongue-in-cheek moments on the album. The delectably funky Ooh La La sees her tease: “Ooh, la-la, open up the door, you know I like it / Ooh, la-la, chivalry was dead but you revived it”. And on the flaming Step Into My Life, she talks about how “It feels so right when you catch my eyes / Maybe for tonight, would you catch my body? / Don’t be scared to touch”. It’s a sort of seduction that we don’t get enough of in music these days.
But close your eyes, and some of the record’s finest moments could almost make you feel like you were in another time. Soul Control calls to mind 80s synthpop in the vein of The Human League and Depeche Mode. Album highlight In Your Eyes sees her desirous vocals dancing atop a bed of orchestral arrangements and synthesisers, mixed to perfection.
In these string-filled moments we see traces of Ware’s old sound, breathy and quietly commanding. Adore You, the album’s first single, plays like a remixed version of her earlier works. And Spotlight makes for the perfect opener, starting the show with an orchestra backing Ware’s rousing vocals.
With ninth track Read My Lips is where the record fizzles out a little. It’s a slightly repetitive four minutes that feels too familiar. The Kill repeats the synths and strings formula from earlier to less success. It’s a shame that both are decent songs in their own right, overshadowed by the rapturous moments that came before.
Closing track Remember Where You Are, however, is a charmer that Ware reveals she wrote in response to the political turmoils the world was going through in 2019. “The heart of the city is on fire / Sun on the rise, the highs are gonna fall / But nothing is different in my arms / So darling remember where you are” she sings, backed by a choir as the album ends with strings the same way it began.
What’s Your Pleasure is Jessie Ware bringing her ultimate seduction to the dancefloor. A disco-heavy, string-backed striptease of an album that sees the singer hold close the sounds she’s toyed with in the past. And while it could possibly have benefited from a bit more variation, it’s still an album fitting for the times, of longing for freedom and physicality with no holds barred.