Album Watch: Jessie Ware's True 'Devotion'

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bold as love, Jessie Ware manifests. Graduating from being the catnip backing to tracks by SBTRKT ("Right Thing To Do", "Nervous") and Joker ("The Vision"), Ware unfolds her debut, the delicate entity known as Devotion, and captivates with a slow hand and a mosaic heart. 

Ware fits into the the sort of Minimalist Period of soul/pop music these days. A period where being as facile as possible can usher in hearty helpings of innovations. So few can achieve it without sounding just a bit artificial. Also, at times, spreading things out too thin leads to comatose albums and songs that dance idly around without ever really seizing the moment and ending up being pretentious fodder that is hollow on arrival. Ware need not distress about this, as she sets the bar on minimalism soul/pop with Devotion, crafting an album that feels so vast, yet is designed with beautiful complexity that each listen must be revisited to engage in every last detail in its fold.  

Not to dismantle the Queen of Cool herself, but one listen to soulful sweeps of Devotion and Ware brings the immediacy that her and Sade Adu are next of kin. She is as poised and provocative as the legendary chanteuse, with equal parts art and soul in her DNA, but a clone of Mama Adu, Ware is not. There will be those that will box Ware in, trying to shatter the enigma of her. They will rally her with Adele and make her ride side-saddle to her peers (see Emeli Sande, Delilah, Robyn, etc.). In some ways it is apt (Ware will have to put on her gloves when it comes to Adele and Delilah), but Ware still will climb out the so-called constructed box with ease, considering how versatile she is. 

Ware's agility to zip back and forth between the modern and the sown seeds from her predecessors is what makes Devotion such an achievement. You might have heard it all before, but not painted up this unique. Her heart hunts in the lonely throbs of dub-step and UK Garage, and these styles provide the basis for Devotion a style that brings to mind how Annie Lennox's alto fit well on stark synth exercises from her Eurythmics hey-day. Producers Julio Bashmore and Dave Okumu provide this recollection bridge where Ware crosses her way to-and-from the brisk 80's, to 90's R&B lushness, and then into dizzying 70's Italo-disco heights. In other hands, it wouldn't be handled this affectionately, as for Ware she slips into these themes with natural intent.    

As we tread through a haze of twinkling synths and plucky guitars on the title track, the hypnotism of Devotion begins. The graceful "Wildest Moments" soldiers in as it details being in the throws of love, with outsiders "wondering why we try". Even in its jovial ideal, Ware foreshadows her love affair's fate by way of mentioning oh so supple about a "wrecking ball" which could then infer the crashing percussion that slices into the background. With this, easily, "Wildest" becomes a gem in this year's music cannon.

Bobbing in a pinball rhythm "Still Love Me" has imprints of Prince laced through it, and if you squint you might hear some remnants of early 80's Chaka Khan as Ware's voice dips down even more muscular than before. The radiant "Night Light" let's Ware stretch and wiggle her legs about as her voice climbs and rolls around. With diction so clear, heck, Ware challenges Adele to a vocal arm wrestle throughout it, and it's a real delight to here her inject some spunk. Highlight "Sweet Talk" rock-a-bye's in perfect scope while in contrast the repetitious soul growl of "No To Love" is Ware having a Roisin Murphy/Moloko moment.

Decked in 90's R&B splendor, "Swan Song" struts in with brooding intent. One can imagine Aaliyah's pensive gaze or TLC's T-Boz at peace in a groove on a Sunday afternoon resurrected as the track just glides along. These relic ideals from the 90's froth up on Devotion, shaping it in abundance. Just listen to "110%" as chopped n' screwed elements poke their way through, but never underscoring Ware's coos.

Could "Running" be the 21st Century's equivalent to Donna Summer's epic genre-bending from 1977 "I Feel Love"? Maybe yes, maybe no, rhythmically they are night and day, but structurally they provide the same game-changing palate. When the song broke in the bleak winter earlier this year, its stuttering synths and craving coos gave attention that something big and soundshifting was taking form, and that Ware wasn't exactly playing nice in the sandbox. As it writhes on the floor and then takes shape upon climax you'll then understand that "Running" is not just great, it's monumental.

If Ware hadn't already proven her girth, she pulls out some showstopping numbers for the finale as the duo of "Taking In Water" and "Something Inside" tie everything up neatly. Especially look to "Taking In Water" which plays up it's Gospel tones and has Ware just draping herself all over this cut, making for a sublime reading.

My initial introduction of Ware was by way of "The Strangest Feeling", a song that I loved at first note, and ended up touting as a perfect example of what is an icy soul tapestry. Never did it come across to me that she would expand on this, going above and beyond when it came to a full album, but I was fooled by the mystique of Ware. A mystery book she is, where we have some tangible idea of the clues that leading up to the big reveal, yet, we can't exactly fashion them together to make a clear picture. Then there is a surprise twist, and we're left to question even further. This is how Devotion and Ware charm their way in, with gradual sophisticated force that leaves you exploring for more. For Jessie Ware obtaining more won't be a struggle, the only way is up for her, as she has arrived with the masterful Devotion in her pocket.

The moment has been seized.

Release Date: August 21, 2012 

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