Forrest Gump once said, “life is like a box of chocolates”, and while there’s little sense in that, if you sit a while with the new Jessie Ware album you could actually begin to believe it. If her debut, Devotion, was Ware giving a 100% then the follow-up, Tough Love is her giving it 200%. Backed by the fine finesse of producers like BenZel, Dev Hynes and Julio Bashmore, we’re introduced to a far more courageous Ware. Vocally, she’s extending herself in ways we’ve never heard before giving us a more commercial but just a sophisticated sound. Like a good box of chocolates we’ve let Tough Love sit with us for a while now but we’re finally ready to delve in a little deeper.
Consider our review through chocolates a wedding present to Jessie Ware and her new husband.
Jessie Ware’s Devotion was so channelled onto one sound, perfected expertly, that she was always going to have to come back with something that shocked on first listen and Tough Love does just that Just like a coconut rough, Tough Love looks simple on first inspection, delve a little bit deeper, however, and it reveals itself to be amalgamation of both smooth and rough textures. The song is different type of love song. One where Ware is clearly in love, but at the same time giving a dose of tough love. She’s confident, in control and in a vocal range that we haven’t heard her explore before. BenZel’s production is also supreme – soft and fluid.
This is probably the most commercially viable song on the album. Its verses are melodically delectable and straight-forward with a chorus that takes flight. At its heart, it’s a classic love song – one where she wants her boyfriend (now husband) all to herself, as sickly sweet as it may be. Just like eating a strawberry creme, before and after may not be perfect, but in that sweet, gooey moment, it feels like eternity is achievable. For the most part of Tough Love, Ware is head over heels but some of her best moments are those where things aren’t so great. Cruel was produced by James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, who’s managed to craft an icy yet seductive track that perfectly shows that moment where things are going very wrong. Love may look like a round ball of chocolate but bite a little harder and you’ll feel the crunch. Ware’s vocal on this is perfect. She sounds completely exhausted yet with a hint of anger.
Say You Love Me was penned with Ed Sheeran but thanks to Ware, she’s managed to pull it back from being an over-the-top ballad, turning it into the heart-tugger of the album. Devotion was an impressive display of restraint, but here she goes for it vocally, giving more force than ever. There’s so many moments (i.e. the choir call and response) where Ware is completely glutenous, showing absolutely no restraint but it’s also great to see her completely let go. It’s gooey, soft and rich. What else could you want in a love song?
Once again here, she is pulling it back in, giving us that Aaliyah-esque vocal alongside a funky, minimal instrumental. We go through all the motions of love on Tough Love, but on Sweetest Song she brings the roses, falling head over heels. Just like a Turkish Delight, it may be a little too sweet for some, but those who enjoy a bit of sugar will fall in love with Ware’s sexy, dim-lit delivery.
Miguel has become the king of seductive RnB over the past year, so it makes sense that he turns up as a writer on Tough Love and what the pair of them crafted together is pretty spectacular. It seems to borrow its melodic flow from nursery rhymes in the verse, with the whole instrumental gently undulating for side-to-side. In terms of subject matter, Ware’s not really sure where she’s at here. It’s both hot and sweet, with sexiness being swapped back and forth with loved-up expressions. Her vocal has a particular bite to it in this one, particularly when she goes for those high notes.
Dark chocolate is the classy mature chocolate. It’s the type you eat when you don’t want to eat too much and as such it has a certain sophistication to it. Want Your Feeling is the most sophisitcated track on the album with Ware and Dev Hynes creating this twilight number that twinkles. It’s a song of desperation but one that deals with the feeling in such a beautiful, sleek way. “Lights still shining in the room, you left me here” creates the most perfect imagery on the whole album. Meanwhile, Hynes’s touch of funky guitars and chirpy keys is just irresistible.
It feels like Say You Love Me was pitched to be the heartbreaking ballad of the record but this one just takes it that little bit further. Ware’s voice still oozes like syrup but it’s a different type of smoothness. In the verses she sounds completely shattered before striking with an acidic, blasting chorus. Look, obviously we chose the orange slice because of the obvious reference to pieces but don’t let that get in the way of understanding that this is one of her most powerful tracks to date – a confident, heart-wrenching moment.
Jessie Ware makes a lot of smart choices in terms of the producers she works with. One partnership that just works is the one between herself and Julio Bashmore. On Devotion, they crafted the slinky 110% and here they are back together for this effortlessly flowing number. Keep On Lying’s subject matter is one of masking emotion which is pretty devastating really, yet behind it is this oozing melody that plods with Ware weaving her vocals through one of the most instantly likeable tracks on the album.
Tough Love is not really the type of record you’d expect from a woman who was just about to get married, but that’s kind of the joy about it. It tracks the ups and downs of a relationship so pertinently, never exploring the beige emotions usually explored in love songs. However, on Champagne Kisses she finally gives us that big, euphoric love song. It’s girly, giddy and with that heighty chorus hitting you like too many bubblies on a balmy afternoon. She takes her voice to heights not heard since the opening title-track, giving us light at the end of the tunnel.
Once again, we have Ware in crazy, stupid love but exploring it in a much different way than the last track. It’s dim-lit, sophisticated and sensual with her notes elongated and the instrumental hovering like a frozen moment in time. It’s a perfectly gentle ending to the album that encapsulates everything we love about Ware. She’s subtle, classy and always 100% present.