Ware's delicate touch has long been her calling card, and it's all over the best moments on Tough Love. You can hear it in the way the verse casually bleeds into pre-chorus on the Dev Hynes-assisted "Want Your Feeling," and in the way the strutting chorus feels more like an exhalation than an exhortation. "Kind Of...Sometimes...Maybe" is a loping waltz that hinges on its own coy indecision and comes out as one of Ware's most personal tunes yet. With "Cruel," she takes the stateliness of Devotion and channels it into a cool and collected kiss-off.
Devotion's most forthright song, "Wildest Moments," casts a shadow over Tough Love. A stadium-sized power ballad that carefully straddled the line between schlock and sincerity, its over-the-top delivery is the default mode for much of Tough Love, and the overpowering mushiness can get tiring. Putting aside "Say You Love Me" and its hackneyed chord progressions, much of the album feels like it was tailor-made for a wedding ceremony, particularly "Pieces" and "Champagne Kisses" (the latter has lyrics to match). That's not necessarily a bad thing—"Champagne Kisses" is beautiful—but a few songs on Tough Love feel overblown.
The most notable shift between Devotion and Tough Love happened behind the scenes. On her first album, Ware worked primarily with Dave Okumu and Julio Bashmore, and here she turns to pop masterminds Benny Blanco and Two Inch Punch, whose influence polishes Ware's pearly sheen into straight-up gloss. But what she's lost in subtlety she's gained in star power, off the back of two years of touring and a slow-burning hit album. For a singer whose sly, simmering confidence has always been an asset, it's all the more satisfying to hear her croon her way through songs like "Cruel," even if she goes off the deep end in other places. You can't please everyone, but on Tough Love, Jessie Ware tries her hardest.