After three years away, Jessie Ware’s third album shows a performer that knows how to get her emotion across on a microphone. Making the album in the midst of her pregnancy, the themes of love and motherhood are powerful and enlightening throughout the record, making the lyrics and vocal performance the constant standout of the record. Letting others take the lead a lot more this time around however the album does feel held back at times from a much less consistent sound and some blander instrumental moments in the middle of the record.
With shimmering guitar licks and instantly iconic sounding melodies, “Midnight” opens the album with a sharp single. With Ware’s swooning vocals and the booming choruses that emulate “Bennie and the Jets” without feeling too derivate, the song is one that catches the ear and takes it for a ride. “Thinking About You” drops drums like bombs as Ware opens up the sound for a pained track of love that’s never given all the way back. While emotionally stirring and even uplifting in its sad chorus chants, it does cycle through the same idea for most of the song.
“Stay Awake, Wait For Me” takes a crawling groove with Ware aching of that deep longing when your lover isn’t by your side. Her delivery through even the most background vocal lines is so sublime that it’s a shame a lot of the track tends to feel too laidback. Picking up the pace for excited electronica on “Your Domino” the vocals cascade and the claps really pop. Driving the same pop-swing that bands like Ace of Bass did so well, she makes her love song more fun than anything else.
Bringing out a solemn piano and intimate vocals, “Alone” is a delightfully tender track that surpasses typical piano-pop through its raw lyrics and melodies that continuously drive the song. Exploding the production in each chorus and really belting out each bridge, the song is so palpably earnest that it’s a shame the snaps sound so manufactured. “Selfish Love” turns into more Latin grooves as the buried guitar lines swing under Ware’s equally dancing vocal lines. While this type of track has been done again and again by singers, it’s the way that Ware leans into the song’s multiple grooves and really fleshes out her vocals that make it work.
Taking ethereal chorus harmonies on “First Time,” the synth-R&B moves the song with a bouncy sense of melody. Inherently spaced out and close, it does feel at times more derivative than its personal lyrics deserve. “Hearts” is powerfully deceptive in its sharp dynamics, feeling all too quiet and downtrodden through its verses. But as the chorus hook bursts through like gunfire, Ware comes out triumphant, taking her melancholy and gaining strength from it.
“Slow Me Down” builds shaking organ lines, laying a melodic foundation for Ware’s loving crooning as she reflects on compromising for love. As her vocals bounce off each other and the song itself comes to complete stops, Ware’s unique personality does a lot to keep this track from feeling too familiar. Coming out of her sadness with power on “Finish What We Started,” there’s a determined passion as Ware soars over her already huge drums in the choruses. Her delightful vocal upturns in the following verses have a lovely velvet tone that carry the song along with delicate bliss.
Driving a lot more than the rest of the album, “Last of the True Believers” has a much smoother overall production that makes its straightforward writing a lot more infectious. Given how strong Paul Buchanan’s vocals are when they show up, he actually feels under used in the song. Touchingly personal on “Sam” a frightened tale of motherhood closes the album on a striking note. Unabashedly honest in its hopefulness and concern, the track doesn’t sugar coat anything.
Words by Owen Maxwell