South London singer’s fifth album is packed full of positive messages and disco-funk backdrops and is never anything but bold, playful and fun
The early years of Jessie Ware’s career saw her receive her fair share of accolades with Mercury Music Prize and BRIT Award nominations, but it felt like the acclaim that greeted her last album What’s Your Pleasure took things one step higher. Those early albums like Devotion and Tough Love showcased a style of R&B that was alternately soaring and smooth, but What’s Your Pleasure had a sophistication, elegance and consistency that felt like a noticeable uplift.
That! Feels Good! continues in similar style, packed full of positive messages and is arguably even more hedonistic that its predecessor (the two exclamation marks are very much justified). The advocation of pleasure and living life to the max are the two central themes that crop up repeatedly throughout. It’s nowhere more prominent than on the opening title track with its funky basslines, sharply delivered lines and sensuous mantras. Guitars peel away in the background and saxophones pepper the later stages (and if you want to look deeper could be perceived as a comment on the human tendency to find routines and patterns in an attempt to secure satisfaction). In short it’s a veritable musical smorgasbord of an opening. “Pleasure is a right!” she asserts, and it’s impossible to disagree.
There’s little let up in the precision-produced moments that follow. Free Yourself is a piano led, percussion festooned banger that sees Ware urge us to “keep on moving up that mountain top” while Pearls takes the best aspects of ’80s pop and revitalises them in sparkling fashion. One of the album’s strengths is its subtle moments of variety and control of the pace, something which is evident in the likes of Hello Love and Begin Again. The former is a relaxed, sunshine infused sojourn which revels in the chance meeting of an old acquaintance while also drawing strength from the overcoming of life’s past challenges. Begin Again meanwhile has a carnivalesque, global feel, all colour, flair and proliferating breadth.
Ahead of the album’s release Ware explained how the album was made primarily for one person – herself – but with the intention of it resonating with others, something which it undoubtedly does with its focus on the universal, human messages and highly relatable scenarios it presents. “I’ve put aside years of anxiety, imposter syndrome and all that fretting and feeling like I’m not good enough,” she said, and with this in mind it feels an even more triumphant achievement.
Beautiful People is a sharp and sassy celebration of humanity and seeking solace in better times. It also sees her extol the importance of self care and the occasional material treat (“Might as well impress myself, I’ll buy a purple leather jacket, I want it, I’ve got to have it”). Freak Me Now is another high energy workout, all emotional replenishment and personal renewal. Although very much distinctive performers in their own right it’s hard not to think of the similarities to Self Esteem’s Prioritise Pleasure at certain points along the way.
Even the final stages continue to offer moments to remember. Shake The Bottle is a cheeky, fruity recourse on fictional past partners. “What is life if not for fun,” she declares amid an atmosphere of sexual liberation and brimming self confidence, and it’s also present on final track These Lips which sees her tease “these lips can do so much more” in tantalising fashion in front of a fluid disco backdrop. It’s an album that confirms the sound of an artist continuing to push forward, a unified expression of joy that is never anything but bold, playful and fun.