It would be easy to pigeon-hole Jessie Ware into a convenient, slightly sexist, box. Solo female singer, with a bit of a feisty touch, singing accessible pop songs that you can easily imagine taking up long-term residence in the charts. File under ‘new Jessie J or Katy B‘ then?
Well, no, as it turns out. Jessie Ware turns out to be a far more complex puzzle than that, being pretty much impossible to categorise. Her songs can swing from silky, late-night grooves, to inspirational, uplifting stadium pop, to dancefloor fillers. The link between each song is her voice of course, capable of switching between big and emotive one minute, and crooning sad and soulfully the next.
That will be no surprise to anyone who heard Ware’s cameos on SBTRKT‘s debut album, but it’s clear from Devotion that she truly shines when being the only one in the spotlight. Producer Dave Okumu of The Invisible proves a perfect foil to Ware, providing a low-key, slow burning funk that enables Ware’s voice to really shine.
Wildest Moments is one of those rare songs that immediately grabs your attention on first listen, featuring a big soaring chorus that effortlessly sends goosebumps travelling up the spine. It’s not particularly representative of the album as a whole – which is far more downbeat – but you can bet some canny TV researcher is already claiming the rights to use it as a soundtrack for an ‘inspirational’ sporting montage.
Running is silky smooth pop-soul, all bouncy synths and smouldering vocals, while 110% is one of the most infectious tracks on here, sampling Big Pun’s Dream Shatterer for a disconcerting snatch of “carving my initials on your forehead”, which is nicely balanced by Ware’s gorgeously phrased plea of “feel free to touch me”. It’s the sort of song you can play over and over again without ever feeling bored of it.
For a debut album, there’s surprisingly little filler on here. On first listen, it may sound a bit too low-tempo to make much of an impression, but after a few listens it slowly begins to cast a spell on you. The atmospheric title track, the slowly building anthem of Night Light (which shows off Ware’s voice to its very best effect), and the off-kilter arrangements of left of centre pop gem Still Love Me are all terrific examples of the quality pop that’s a trademark of this album.
And for proof that she can take of Adele at her own game, check out the beautiful Taking In Water, a lovelorn ballad which is all the more impressive for the restraint Ware shows in her vocal performance – she resists the temptation to belt the song out, her subtle performance sounding all the more moving for being restrained. It’s a mystery why whoever sequenced the album didn’t use it as the last track, for the eerie Jamie Woon soundalike of Something Inside, as good as it is, is a bit underwhelming as a swansong.
Any quibbles are minor here though, for Devotion is a truly impressive debut album from yet another talented British singer. A front-runner for next year’s BRIT awards? Don’t bet against her.