Just under a month ago, Jessie Ware, the Brixton-born singer and master of restraint, performed at the iTunes Festival where she showcased a vastly improved confidence in not only her stage presence, but in her vocals as well. Ware stated in a 2014 interview with The Guardian that her new record pushed her voice to the front and out of her usual comfort zone. Based on her iTunes performance, the result is a welcome departure from the restrained, seductive efforts on her previous album, Devotion (2012).
The new record, Tough Love, sees Ware tackle the problems that arise from being in love. The song titles say it all: Love is “Cruel”; it happens “Kind Of… Sometimes… Maybe,” and when things get tough, it’s better to “Keep On Lying.”
Beginning with the arresting lead single in which Ware sings in a higher than usual register—almost in a whisper—delivering her vocals over an echoing beat, electronics, and restrained guitar strums, this track is essentially a prologue for the rest of the album. The standout track—the second single and her highest charting song to date—“Say You Love Me,” is a superbly crafted track—far more organic than the rest of the album and perfectly suited to Ware’s sultry vocals. She should take this song as the model for the future.
Unfortunately, though, this is where Tough Love begins to falter. For all the supreme production, what’s lacking is Ware’s upfront vocals that she clearly demonstrated she can do with ease at her iTunes performance. The chorus of “You And I (Forever)” for example, which was incredible at the live performance, was a gently-building song that climaxed with a stunning final note. On the album, though, that same note is barely a murmur.
This underwhelming listen is more of an annoyance, though, rather than the making of a bad album. It would be wrong to overlook everything Tough Love does well, and for refined and restrained music to listen to in the wee hours of the morning, you simply cannot get any better.