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.