Two years ago, Jessie Ware released her debut album, Devotion, to an uproar of critical acclaim, a Mercury Prize nomination, comparisons to Sade and Adele, and the tops of numerous best of 2012 lists. Impressive is an understatement for the twenty-nine-year-old English singer-songwriter. With the impending sophomore album expectations and a recent marriage, Jessie Ware comes back with confidence and elegance on Tough Love. Teaming up with producers Benny Blanco and Ben Ash, otherwise known as BenZel, Jessie Ware perfected her style of sexy and intricate ease. She even brought in Miguel, Ed Sheeran, and Dev Hynes, of Blood Orange, to co-write.
Even with the new production team and her special guests, Tough Love is still very much a Jessie Ware classic; polished and smooth. After releasing the title track back in April, a whole six months before the release of her album, you could sense the confidence Ware had in herself and her single to keep her audience’s attention and devotion. With the astonishing chorus and the complex, yet soft synths on “Tough Love,” it’s relieving to know that she picks right back up where she left off. She isn’t trying to push her boundaries too far or alter her sound, and that’s what keeps this sophomore effort as delicate as it is satisfying. This isn’t Jessie Ware trying to be the biggest global pop star. She’s comfortable exactly where she is, and, in a pop music world cluttered with extravaganza, it’s refreshing to have artists like her. “Want Your Feeling” is so lavishly calm and incredibly natural; it’s everything great about pop music, minus the flash.
What is noticeably different is the genuine happiness that Jessie Ware is exploring more of. “You & I (Forever)” is one of the few songs on the album that is directed at her husband, and it’s infectiously hopeful. “Champagne Kisses,” is as cutesy as it sounds, and it features a gorgeous high-pitched chorus. Don’t fret though, this album isn’t overtly sappy, and Jessie Ware was very careful to not just write songs about her recent marriage and current state of tranquility. In an interview with Complex, she said, “I’m more interested in other people’s relationships, and I’m interested in the universality of songs that can unite or divide people with what’s said. You can either relate or you totally can’t, and that’s fine.”
Although Jessie Ware claims she is more interested in other people’s relationships, “Pieces” feels like one of her most revealing and personal works yet. “I was so sure this was real but / Now I’m sure of nothing at all / I had to shatter the pieces / That made me reveal myself,” she sings in an incredible pre-chorus/chorus transition. “Say You Love Me,” my personal favorite track on the album, is a telling sign that Jessie Ware can write a universal song that you can take in a multitude of directions. The song has a sad tonal quality, but it unfolds into a triumphant embrace, completed with a choir set to the beat of handclaps. One of the best aspects of her music is when she slightly alters the pitch of her voice or changes the pacing of a tune to add emphasis to her words in order to emotionalize them. “I want to feel burning flames when you say my name,” she sings and it cuts right through you.
Jessie Ware completely avoids the sophomore slump. Although she brought in new producers and guests, she still continued to co-write songs with Dave Okumu and Tom Hull, solidifying the fact that she can grow and expand while staying true to her roots. Tough Love is a blissful and ornate pop album from the woman who got married at a bar… on the Greek island of Skopelos. Tough Love is bold, it goes down easy, it’s familiar, and, most importantly, it’s completely Jessie Ware.