While Adele continues to conquer the world with her record-breaking 21, an honest collection of bluesy, rollicking odes to heartbreak and sorrow (which is still the best-selling record of 2012, despite being released last year), England may well have just found themselves their next humble hometown glory by the name of Jessie Ware.
Ware shares little in common with Adele musically, apart from heaps of talent and a rich, magnificent voice filled with soul–hers is a much more velvety, melodic affair (or as she describes it, “malleable”), resulting in what sounds like a blend between Sade, Aaliyah and at times, Whitney Houston.
Classically trained (though originally intending to become a journalist!), the songstress began making inroads in the industry after lending vocals to tracks by UK trip-hop, dubstep and garage producers, including SBTRKT and DJ Joker, from UK radio station Rinse FM (the same group responsible for making Katy B happen.) From there, Ware got to work with Dave Okumu of The Invisible and Julio Bashmore to begin carving out her debut.
The result is Devotion, a stunning, masterful debut that shines from start to finish and spans across several decades of soul, R&B and dance that’s all but disappeared from radio today–from ’70s funk and disco, to the slinky, laid-back soul of the ’80’s, to traces of early ’90’s R&B.
That is not to say that Devotion is a throwback record, though. If anything, it’s timeless.
There are dozens of musical treats packed into the package: The Prince-esque sizzle of “Running,” the strange, tribal drums evoking the Swede-pop weirdness of Fever Ray and Niki & The Dove on “Still Love Me,” the Róisín Murphy-like disco revivalism of “No To Love.”
Ware displays impressive versatility throughout, proving herself to be far more than merely a dance vocalist: “Wildest Moments,” the latest single from campaign, is a stunning win for fans of classic balladry. “Baby, in our wildest moments, we could be the greatest/Baby in our wildest moments, we could be the worst of all,” the singer declares above a soldiering drum beat.
“Taking In Water,” a piano-led ballad found in the album’s closing moments, is a sweeping, aching number that delivers the kind of wallop of emotion that only a proper diva could provide. “I’m taking in water for you, my love/Pulling you out, I’ll take the blow,” she cries out.
And while there’s not even a single dud on the record, the brightest moments come in the form of pure, timeless soul: “Sweet Talk,” which might as well be an updated form of Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo,” is wrapped up in warm, jazzy melodies and smooth vocals. “Night Light,” similarly, feels like an instant classic upon first play, filled with jam session guitar riffs and a funky bass line.
Despite revisiting familiar sensations, the record ultimately looks forward: Album opener and namesake “Devotion,” for instance, slowly creeps atop tripping synthesizers and moody ambient noises recalling the eerie creep-hop of The Weeknd. “You say you want to love, but do you want it enough?” Ware ponders in a near whisper. The UK garage-infused “110%” is just as forward-thinking, as the songstress coolly crooning atop a frantic, skittering beat while repeating a very Robyn-esque mantra: “Still dancing on my own.”
In the end, Devotion is much, much more than a spectacular pick ‘n’ mix of musical references (and it would be a disservice to label it as such!) Ware’s crafted an incredibly unique, refreshing sound in Devotion, resulting in what will easily be considered one of the year’s finest records.
Her brand of music, while still rooted in elements of dance, may not immediately appeal to the synth-laden, sweat-drenched EDM currently dominating on the charts. But perhaps, like Adele, her stellar tunes will rise to the top, providing radio with a much-needed injection of soothing soul.
Devotion was released on August 20. (iTunes UK)