August 14, 2012
First Listen: Jessie Ware's amazing Devotion
There is a strong case to be made that when you play Jessie Ware's Devotion for the first time - and do it in a dark place, with wine - that you will be listening one of the finest albums of 2012. Ware, previously a background singer for Paloma Faith, comes into her own in a big way. Working with producers Julio Bashmore and Dave Okumu, she is living proof that less really is more. She knows when to hold back and when to give. It's a fucking sweet dream.
Update: The Guardian is streaming Devotion now
Here is a track by track:
Devotion Chiming synths ring in the arrival of Jessie Ware. The title track is Sade-smooth minimalism. How can one be so sexy and make it seem so easy? Boom this track on earbuds and the bass envelopes you. Watch a live performance
Wildest Moments Pounding drums anchor a song about a love affair only the lovers understand ("from the outside everyone must be wondering why we try"). But you know it's doomed by the time she purrs "my wrecking ball" at the end of the perfect middle eight. One of the finest singles of 2012. Watch the video
Running The track that got everyone's attention in the dead of winter. Much like Emeli Sande's debut single Heaven, this one dials up the nineties. Unlike Sande's album, Devotion delivers and expands that sound. Watch the video
Still Love Me The first of two groove-based songs on the album. The sound here is more dissonant, the vocal almost a chant. Twangy, pingy, skittering.
No To Love As in Who says no to love? Another groove, this one introducing a cool-as-ice male countervocal who closes the song with a sleek, bling-free rap. The throatiness with which she delivers the final "What were we thinking of?" is a hint of things to come.
Night Light And now, the slayer (and forthcoming single). A big, big tune that allows Ware to cut loose. Sonically adventurous, with cello and cascading electric guitars. Again, the middle eight delivers a song within a song and an erotic come-on: "Tell me where to follow, I'm happy to be told. I'm happy to be told." This is goosebump territory.
Swan Song Though this track pings along, abiding by the album template, it never quite lifts off. It's still solid. In fact, there isn't one duff track on Devotion.
Sweet Talk Imagine yourself in 1990, popping in the cassingle of Sweet Talk, like a lost Mariah Carey jam. Minus the shattering glass and tacky clothes. Lyrically, Jessie gets herself into trouble with smooth talking men. It works for her. Hear it
110% The second single flat-lined with me on its release, but it suddenly comes to life here, in the context of the album. Crisp, modern production and samples from Big Punisher's The Dream Shatterer are contrasted by very pretty vocal. Watch the video
Taking In Water is a big gun ballad in the old school music biz style. It'll draw an inevitable Adele comparison for its unashamed divaness, but I have no idea what taking in water means.
Something Inside The album closer is a drop dead gorgeous love song. "Offer me something inside, a place to go, a place to hide." It's easy to draw comparisons between Jessie and artists like Sade and Lisa Stanfield, but Devotion has a subtle weirdness about it that reminds a bit of Maxwell in his Embrya phase. Built on an unusual structure that seems like two pieces layered into one (metaphorical?), Something Inside shimmers and flutters until it finally slips away like exhaled smoke.
The finest album of 2012? I think so.