Jessie Ware, ‘Devotion’ – Album Review
'Devotion', the debut album of British singer-songwriter Jessie Ware, finally washed ashore in the U.S. this week. It was released to much hype and ballyhoo across the pond last August.
Remember the problems we had around that same time with NBC's controversial tape delays from the London Summer Olympics? Imagine if they were just airing the gymnastics finals this week. That's how the delayed effect hits you while listening to this album.
Record labels are apparently among the last businesses on Earth to realize that the "Internets" are a global phenomenon. When an act explodes on the scene in the Mother Land, many fans in the Colonies are along for the ride. 'Devotion' has already been nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize and long-ago topped many 2012 Best Albums lists.
So, if you're just hearing Jessie's wares for the first time, was it worth the wait? Eh, yeah, sure, why not? It's not as if there are any new Adele, Sade or Brazilian Girls albums competing for our dollars this time of year. Based on the cover art, she might even happen into some Jennifer Lopez fans who buy the album by mistake.
Jessie's gorgeous and her voice is twice as beautiful -- smooth as silk and light as a feather. Her music bridges the gap between Sade's ultra smooth, jazzy, Caribbean cool and Adele's more delicate ballads. Jessie isn't a belter, so the trippy, funky soundbeds don't make her work too hard to be heard.
Beyond the smash hit singles 'Wildest Moments' and 'If You're Never Gonna Move' (the song formerly known as '110%' before a sample dispute), nothing on 'Devotion' particularly cares to stand out -- not that it needs to. This album is reserved and elegant, while just about everything else in pop culture is desperately screaming "look at me!"
To sum up, 'Devotion' isn't 'Party in the U.S.A.' kinda music; it's a cocktail party soundtrack, or better yet, hot, steamy, make-out music. The songs are so close to each other sonically, they're best appreciated as a cohesive piece.
That said, let's take a quick spin, track-by-track.
The album kicks off with a trippy, ambient ballad. "Life with you was like a dream," she sings. The fluttering beats and delicate vocals almost feel like exactly that: a lucid audio daydream.
2. 'Wildest Moments'
"Everyone wonders why we try, why do we try?" Jessie's voice soars on this heavenly smash hit single. It's a perfect pop song, so why would anyone ever try to change it? Spoiler alert, see below. [Watch the Video]
"I think I'm ready to lose it all," Jessie sings, putting her heart and emotions on the line for a lover. The music bed recalls 'Echo Chamber' by Beats International, but the vocal is a bit Jenny from the Block. The combination? Delicious. [Watch the Video]
4. 'Still Love Me'
This dreamy, cottonball light, R&B, trip-hop track mainly just rolls the song title around like ice cubes in the cocktail glass of an anxious lover.
5. 'No to Love'
"Who says no to love? What was I thinking of?" She might be asking herself the same thing for recording this downtempo and forgettable '90s R&B track. The guest rap near the end is a very welcome reprieve and could have better served as the lead, with Jessie retuning to her roots on back-up.
6. 'Night Light'
The chorus of this midtempo ballad almost feels like a direct lift from (or as they would say, homage to) 'Give Me the Night' by George Benson. [Watch the Video]
7. 'Swan Song'
Another slow, slow jam. "Here's my swan song, it was my mistake." Fear not love, it's not that bad -- perfect for background music.
8. 'Sweet Talk'
This one treads back into pop radio from the late '80s -- polished to a shine, but no edge or meat. If you've ever wondered why so many of Prince's protégés like Andy Allo and Bria Valente never went anywhere, case in point. The music is beautiful, but not memorable.
9. 'If You're Never Gonna Move'
Producers surgically altered the questioned sample from the original track, '110%', so expertly, you will never notice the difference. This exquisite song is worth the price of the entire album. [Watch the Video]
10. 'Talking in Water'
Another standout track -- a beautiful vocal performance, meatier chorus hook, backed with little else but a rich male back-up vocal. Lovely.
11. 'Something Inside'
Another imaginative track that showcases the unlimited potential Jessie has when channeled into a good song. It's delicate with just the right splash of weird. There are several different bridges in the song that whisk the listener along much easier than a senseless guest rap. Not that she would ever stoop down to employ such a pedestrian marketing tactic...
12. 'Imagine It Was Us'
"I should know better than to wait for you."Jessie sings, and by now, U.S. audience are probably asking themselves the same thing. The song, the sole "new" part of the U.S. release, is a decent, light, R&B romp that, as is, would have fit in nicely on a Sheila E. album. Back in the day, Whitney Houston would have turned it into a global smash hit.
13. 'Wildest Moments' (Remix) Feat. ASAP Rocky
The other "bonus track," also featured on the 'Gold Edition' reissue in the U.K., features some bonus rhymes by ASAP Rocky. We certainly get why the labels insist on cramming guest raps into perfectly excellent songs -- the kids love it, as does radio -- though Mr. Rocky's rap does little to move the story along. What could have been insight from the lover's POV, turns into just another phoned-in rhyme scheme. It's all about the Benjamins, as they say, or in this case, packing on a few more Pounds (£).
Watch the Jessie Ware 'Imagine It Was Us' Video