Two years ago, on tracks like SBTRKT's "Nervous" and Joker's "The Vision," UK songstress Jessie Ware seemed like just another competent vocalist, catnip for dance tracks but lacking personality outside of the bulldozer force of her vocal cords. Fast forward to earlier this year and she released the stunning "Running" under her own name, produced in part by Julio Bashmore. That one was a Sade-styled crooner, all perspiring chords and sensually unspooling guitar, oozing a coy yet heartfelt nuance that her previous work lacked. What was most spellbinding about "Running" was its cool reserve, with Ware coming upon newfound power through calm restraint and a husky lower register. That UK young bloods Disclosure remixed it into one of the year's indisputable club anthems certainly didn't hurt matters.
Following "Running," Ware let loose a trickle of singles that have steadily nudged the hype factor for her debut album, Devotion, into the stratosphere. First there was the gentle "110%," where she turned a Bashmore-helmed house jam into a fluttering ballad, with synths sculpted out of fluffy clouds and her vocals shimmering brighter than ever. There was "Wildest Moments," a full-on power ballad replete with stadium reverb, marching band drums and a melody so remarkably poignant it turned the song's heavy-handed universalism in on itself, a crushingly sad tribute to broken relationships. "Wildest Moments" is one the more transparent moments on Devotion, but it's also the exemplar for her incredible gift of colouring between the lines of even the most standard torch song with an aching, penetratingly honest subtlety.
Now Devotion finally arrives, almost unprecedented in how fully formed it feels. Essentially overnight Ware is a singer who cruises by on her own carefully cultivated persona, the opposite of her earlier session work. She nails late '80s woozy Prince trifles like "Still Love Me" or the incredible "Sweet Talk," a track so bubbly it sounds drunk on its own effervescence. She's also still got the powerhouse pipes, turning "Night Light" from a Katy Perry-level conceit into a stirring and even triumphant pronouncement of loyalty.
But even with all these standout moments and fantastic singles, the album's unwinding one-two punch (or caress, rather) is its most arresting. "Taking in Water" crawls bar-by-bar on its own exasperated devotion, bleeding into closer "Something Inside," another track that floats on its own airiness. Ware's vocals are propped up by textures and basslines that knock gently, elevating her gorgeous melodies into something almost spiritual. It's an ending that feels simultaneously transitory and complete, a striking conclusion to an album that explores every aspect of romance good and bad. Her perspective is brutally honest yet simplistic enough to get by as pop music, a masterstroke of succinct wit. Adorned with production that's as sympathetic to UK underground dance as it is to modern R&B and classic soul, Devotion is a classy affair that delights in its own refinement yet stays pinned to the earth, a talented singer and songwriter realizing her potential at just the right moment.
Tracklist: Jessie Ware - Devotion 01. Devotion
02. Wildest Moments
04. Still Love Me
05. No to Love
06. Night Light
07. Swan Song
08. Sweet Talk
10. Taking in Water
11. Something Inside
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