Jessie Ware – Tough Love – Album Review

Jessie_Ware_Tough_Love

There’s one song on Jessie Ware’s new album Tough Love that you really need to listen to. It leads you by the hand to a 1980s pre-teen bedroom with canned echoes of the electronic beats that were lovingly created on those once trendy little Casio keyboards. With the now legendary and completely infectious Bossa Nova rhythm providing the framing for ‘Keep on Lying’, Ware’s beautifully crafted lyric and breathy vocal are, however, nothing like the adolescent drivel that would more commonly accompany that ever-recognisable sound.

Matched with a synthesised drum beat resembling hand-claps and a fresh sounding melody that brings an emotional depth to the relentlessness of the rhythmic feel of the song, this track offers a certain quirkiness to Ware’s second studio album.

Following on from the success of her debut album, Devotion, in 2012, you certainly get the impression that Ware’s fledging confidence has really been able to spread its wings in this new release. Expressively bold, and with a more assured vocal presentation than before, Ware plunges emotional depths with strength and subtlety.

Thematically, all 11 tracks draw from a well of heartache and romantic yearning. A breathy chronicle of love with each song exploring a new chapter, and none of them offering sugar-coating – there is a real substance here.

The title track ‘Tough Love’, with its buoyant high-register vocals and the punchy rhythm that reverberates like the tempo of a heartbeat, reveals from its first few bars that Ware is more than slightly fascinated by the synthetic sound of the 80s. This rendezvous with yesteryear is developed through the album, most notably in ‘Want Your Feeling’ and the haunting, mellow, Sade-esque pop beats of ‘Cruel’.

This is far from a throwback to the 80s, though, as there is a well-hewn fusion of electronica and retro soul with 21st century mainstream pop. The sultry ‘Kind of…Sometimes…Maybe’ is a dreamy electronic mix of digital and R&B; the result of a productive collaboration with modern-soul artist Miguel (Pimentel).

The most capable song on the album is ‘Say You Love Me’ a track co-written by Ed Sheeran; and it shows. The soulful vocal melody in this luxurious ballad showcases Ware’s versatility as it veers from intimate torch song to soaring power ballad, and the gospel choir in the bridge matched with syncopated clapping is wonderfully uplifting.

If there is anything negative to say about this album it is that in some places the production choices seem to swamp, rather than parade, Ware’s vocal talent, and it is a shame there are no acoustic tracks on Tough Love as we were offered on Devotion. Despite this, however, her tenderness and intimacy seem to smoothly shine through and at times her melodious lament is hypnotically seductive.

At its best Tough Love is not tough to love. On ‘Champagne Kisses’ Ware’s fluttery vocal even sits somewhere in-between the brilliance of Enya and Annie Lennox. For a relative newcomer, her brave and heartfelt vulnerability shines incandescently, and it is her confident and sophisticated subtlety, exuding irrepressibly from even the quirkiest songs on the album, which is her main strength.

Review of The Full Monty (Theatre) – Cheeky!

the full monty

Men in underpants prancing about in a disused steel works – that’s an image that stays with you. This spectacle, however, is not as unpleasant as it might sound, but is really a fun and endearing scene.

Simon Beaufoy has adapted his 1997 hit film for the stage and there is definitely plenty of ‘Hot Stuff’ in this touring production, though it must be said that this is not just a play about stripping. Given the serious issues Beaufoy deals with, such as unemployment, depression and suicide, it is perhaps astounding that the audience have such a rip-roaring time, but that’s the genius of this show.

Set in Sheffield in Thatcher’s 1980s, Gaz and best mate Dave have been laid off from their jobs at the steel works and have resorted to thieving to make ends meet. Taken to court over non-payment of child maintenance and about to be denied access to his son, Gaz, played by Gary Lucy, is so desperate for cash that he comes up with a plan to form a male stripping group like the Chippendales. Managing to convince Dave and four others, they aptly call themselves ‘Buns of Steel’ and find themselves agreeing to ‘go the full Monty’.

In his first role for the stage, Gary Lucy is adorable, and very much a crowd-pleaser. His best mate, Dave, is played by Martin Miller with just the right mixture of sensitivity and comedy, providing countless moments of hilarity. Bobby Scofield also puts in a very notable performance as the vulnerable and slightly awkward Lomper, who Dave and Gaz rescue from a suicide attempt and who then becomes their first recruit. His comic timing is perfect and the scene where he tries to escape an uncomfortable question by fiercely pedalling on an exercise bike is quite simply side-splitting.

In fact the casting in this production is every bit as fantastic as the film, if not better. As soon as Horse, played by Louis Emerick, emerges onto the stage the whole production kicks into fifth gear as his wonderfully choreographed dance routine, complete with funky chicken, is an absolute joy to behold. Fraser Kelly, one of four young actors playing Gaz’s son, is a brilliant new star to watch out for and Andrew Dunn’s Gerald is delightfully snooty as the gnome-loving ex-foreman who is too scared to tell his wife he is unemployed.

All the iconic scenes of the film are there, including the dole-queue-dancing to Donna Summer – one of the most enduring laughs in movie history, which is faithfully reprised here with all the exhilarating thrusting of a Harrier Jump Jet.

The clever set design persistently reminds the audience that the whole action is framed by the closure of the steel industry, as the windows of the disused works are continually visible, and the discarded crates and barrels are utilised in a variety of different scenes. Despite this constant reminder of economic depression the whole play is a scream from start to glorious finish. The script keeps the laughs coming all night with lines such as “Widges on parade! Bring your own microscope!” and Roger Haines’s direction encourages cheeky interactions with the audience, which is something you just can’t get with the onscreen version.

The disadvantage with the film version is that you are looking at the audience as the boys take their hats off for the big reveal at the end, but in the theatre you actually get to be the audience. And just in case you are wondering, they do really go the full Monty…

Four and a half stars

I saw The Full Monty at The Royal & Derngate in Northampton on 11th November 2014 and it is currently on tour at theatres across the UK

logo

Originally written for http://www.thepublicreviews.com and reproduced here with their permission

The Judge – Film Review

the judge

The Judge, starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall

Could a feature-length cliché win an Oscar? The release date of October 10th was perhaps deliberately tempting the Academy bees to come buzzing around The Judge, starring the two big Roberts – Downey Jr and Duvall, but when it comes to judging this film, the praise is likely to come up a little short.

There are, however, truly moving moments of brilliance here and there. Nick Schenk’s script is sensitive and edgy, but peppered throughout with more than a few comic touches, perhaps because it is in the hands of director David Dobkin, the man behind Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus. It could easily be overdone, but considering this is his first gritty drama, he handles the balance very capably.

Life seems to be catching up with Hank Palmer (Downey Jr), a typically unscrupulous city lawyer who thinks nothing of psyching out his rivals by urinating on them prior to a court hearing. Having discovered that his wife Lisa “played hide the pickle with someone else”, he learns that his mother has passed away while tending her hydrangeas.

Hank reluctantly ventures home for the first time in 20 years to a decidedly frosty reception from the man he simply calls “Judge”, his father Joseph (Duvall); big brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio), who was once a promising baseball player; and younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong), whose mental impairment leaves him blissfully unaware of the state of his increasingly dysfunctional family.

A pillar of the community, Judge Joseph seems to be losing grip a little. He is forgetting names he should know well and when he goes out to buy eggs after his wife’s funeral, he crashes his car and can’t remember doing it. When the blood of a dead man he sentenced ten years earlier is found on his front bumper, Joseph is arrested for murder and his son feels an obligation to help him.

Hank has something to prove, but the Judge is making it very difficult. The incompetent lawyer he hires instead (Dax Shepard) visibly flounders in the wake of slick prosecutor, Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) and, pinned down by forensic and circumstantial evidence, Joseph needs help from his son if he is going to prove his innocence.

The Duvall and Downey Jr combination works very well, particularly when the tension rises. There is a notable scene in the bathroom, which is both harrowing and heart-rending, and the touch of humour is played with sensitivity. This, plus a moment in the courtroom which resembles an episode of Dr Phil, is a wonderful insight into their journey towards forgiveness.

Hank’s old flame Sam (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Carla (Leighton Meester), born about nine months after he left town, are the film’s female eye candy. Apart from providing an interesting, if clichéd, reverse Oedipal scenario, they do not really add anything to the charm of the film.

His brothers are nothing like him, or each other, and Carlinville is a truly model small-town Indiana, giving the distinct impression that we are dealing here with stereotypes, but Hank and Joseph are well enough rounded to more than make up for these inadequacies.

The film is dialogue-driven, there is good pace, emotion and tension, but there is cliché after cliché – the son desperate to please his father, for whom nothing is ever going to be enough; the city-slicker seemingly lost back in his hometown; and the old girlfriend with a child exactly as old as the years they have been apart.

It doesn’t help that Thomas Newman’s score is truly overpowering in places, where the nudge to the viewer is perhaps more of a sharp poke, and some of the plot is tediously predictable.

With some unexpected twists and turns here and there, a beautifully crafted script and acting that pulls some real heavyweight punches, The Judge may not win an Oscar, but the jury is definitely going to be touched, impressed and entertained.

Three stars