Off the back of a debut album (2012’s Devotion) that amassed critical claim, earned her a Mercury Prize nomination and comparisons to British soul sensation Adele, singer-songwriter Jessie Ware has released Tough Love, a confident statement of her arrival and longevity. Teaming up with producers Benny Blanco and Ben Ash (BenZel), her sophomore release includes a deluge of high profile collaborations, comprising tracks written with Miguel, Ed Sheeran, and Dev Hynes.
Title track and lead single, Tough Love, which has been flooding indie airwaves for much of 2014, gave us a hint as to the standard of the rest of the album: polished, elegant exploration of love and relationships that is both heart-breaking and playful. Her affecting falsetto perfectly delivers agonising lines “when your heart becomes a million different pieces,” while layered accompaniment creates several points of interest. Pieces is another heartrending track that is both revealing and relatable.
But not every track on the album is painful, soul-infused indie pop. While it’s lyrical content is somewhat aching, Cruel is a sparkling epic whose great string arrangement navigates a truly crossover sound that reflects the background of its co-writers. The funky soul stylings of Dave Okumu (Amy Winehouse, St Vincent) blends seamlessly with the disco-pop/dance sound favoured by James Ford (of Simian Mobile Disco). Ware also explores the playful side of love in the Miguel-influenced Champagne Kisses and Kind Of… Sometimes… Maybe. Champagne Kisses indulges in the joy and fun of fantasy with its shimmering guitars, soaring melodies and doe-eyed delivery. Kind Of… Sometimes… Maybe is a song that wouldn’t want to listen to with your parents, not because it’s at all explicit, but because everything about it is charmingly sensual. So simply written but perfectly delivered and produced, Kind Of… Sometimes… Maybe is a musical, sultry and lustful swoon, and one of the standouts. Keep on Lying is something completely unexpected. The track comes to life with what sounds like merry-go-round music, played over a really crisp beat. Reflecting this instrumental contrast is Ware’s strong voice singing over lush and understated vocal harmonies, taking us to some sort of weird parallel universe.
There are some big tracks on Tough Love too; including the collaborative effort with Ed Sheeran, Say You Love Me. It opens patiently – a vast sonic expanse comprising only beats and her distinctive voice, whose melody and melismatic phrases are incredibly reminiscent of Sheeran-penned hits. As she voices the words “slowly, slowly you unfold me”, you notice that the song does exactly that, unfolding gradually until we’re enveloped by a triumphant choral breakdown. After the heart-breaking falsetto and string arrangement of much of the first half of the album, the power of Say You Love Me is a really nice and well-placed change of pace, harking back to the vocal virtuosity of 2012’s Wildest Moments. This is a track of RnB-influenced balladry that, if it wasn’t intentionally made for mainstream radio, will definitely find its home there.
Tough Love, is a bold sophomore effort, which at times clings to the aesthetic of her debut but with new collaborations pushes her sound further into the gulf between blue-eyed soul and indie electronica. Speaking about the thematic material of Tough Love, Ware explains that with her recent marriage and career success she’s had so many new experiences, but she “still wanted to return to that theme from the first record of unrequited love… to get this all out before I’m going to be a happily married woman.” Hopefully with her next release Ware can push her thematic and lyrical boundaries even further, to match her musical development.