By James Blake
“It’s still quite new for me to be the front person, it really scares me,” Jessie Ware tells Muso’s Guide after her set at this year’s Nova Festival. Her performance is by far the most intimate affair in a summer long charm offensive of Europe and gives the singer an increasingly rare opportunity to see the individual affects of her take on electronic pop. A sea of mud splattered grins suggests a preview of Ware’s debut album Devotion is enough to forget about trying to maintain balance in a swamp, but do the same tracks offer a similar glimpse of escapism when the mud’s dried out?
The whimsical opening bars of the title track nudges revelers back to their chosen mud-fest and welcomes newcomers to well crafted story telling with a captivating backdrop as sequenced handclaps and backing vocals introduce the album’s tasteful production. Sporadic synths multitask to personify the singer’s vulnerability as a soloist with Ware’s vocal tentatively emerging through a web of neatly constructed melodic trills. Most recent single ‘Wildest Moments’ maintains sensitivity and as a powerful drum pattern builds momentum, emotive emphasis switches to the singer’s simple yet endearing lyrical style.
These opening tracks act as a personal introduction to Jessie Ware – an accessible account of angst and love that plays off tailor made production to create instant understanding between artist and listener. This intimacy carries into more familiar ‘Running’, as her debut solo single brings out more confidence as a catchy hooks are introduced to Jessie Ware’s growing arsenal.
With the pervious chorus working tirelessly to stay in your head all day another prominent aspect of Devotion appears in the intro of ‘Still Love Me’. A subtle diversity within the intrsumentation makes each track seem refreshingly different to the one before it. Whether it be the flicker of a guitar, the thump of a bass line or the twinge of a keyboard Ware is effortless in flirting between house, dance and an array of electronic genres across the album. In combining these elements with the more tasteful side of pop, Jessie Ware joins the likes of AlunaGeorge and Little Dragon making the journey into the mainstream just as successfully as their male counterparts without the need for a tribal mask or handmade dinosaur outfit!
If any doubt surrounds her progression from “standing at the back of the stage with a tambourine, that I can’t even play” to soloist, ‘No To Love’ proves the singer can work alone. A seemingly anonymous male vocal verse reverts to her days as a session singer with SBRTKT, Sampha and Joker but a sense of longing for her vocal to return demonstrates the control and comfort Ware now has in her own work.
The infectious standout chorus of ‘Night Light’ provides a half way point lift and, for the first time outside of the singles, the vocal cuts through the layered glitches and pulses. It’s an aspect of Ware’s work that would be welcome, and it would have been good to have seen it more before this point.
The following track ‘Swan Song’ sees a slight lull in proceedings and seems to capitalise on the previous memorable chorus. That said the track does feature the use of plucked strings that seem to enjoy their syncopated appearance on a debut album rather than being reserved for the obligatory second album thickener. On first impressions, ‘Sweet Talk’ is a carbon copy of the previous track before a drum pattern better suited to an ’80s pop ballad forms the basis displaying Jessie’s competence in arranging her ideas and is the best example of her ability to disguise melancholic themes in an uplifting exterior.
Critically acclaimed single ’110%’ is held until a surprisingly late point in the album but despite hearing the track infinite times it seems to have a new lease of life in the more intimate context of the album rather than on national radio A lists. The tactical placement of the track keeps the listener captivated for the closing tracks that see a return to the more experimental intimacy where we met Ware. ‘Taking In Water’ reveals a passionate side to her vocal but fails to penetrate the slick studio production in the same way as her live performances while the charismatic delivery of ‘Something Inside’ is submerged in so many delicate riffs that it takes a few goes to get the most out of it… Not that you’ll mind.
“I kept apologizing for not making people dance, my Mum would have killed me,” continues Jessie Ware after her performance. Despite failing to send Nova festival into a mud ridden frenzy, Devotion sees her effortlessly recreating the connection she made with the crowd. The album’s growth in confidence, lyrical ability and strong production means even as she looses sight of the whites of her fans’ eyes, Jessie Ware’s material maintains its purity. The only apology she should be making is for not putting down the tambourine much sooner.