Photo Credit: Carlijn Jacobs
Reinvention is a difficult game to play. One of the greatest artistic struggles a creator experiences is the profound desire to move their art forward (whatever “forward” means for them) without being swept up in a trend. British vocalist Jessie Ware has reinvented her act steadily through the years by inching forward with evolution instead of total revolution. Perhaps this delicate observance is key to the consistency of her music, always looking forward but never jumping off a cliff.
Enter What’s Your Pleasure?, Ware’s fourth studio LP that doubles as a dizzying time warp into the 1970s. After grooving through three albums of increasingly interesting, ethereal adult pop, Ware was on the verge of a breakdown when her starlight seemed to fizzle, despite glowing reviews of her last album Glasshouse. Her own mother suggested she lay her career to rest and pivot to something else — but we all owe her a debt of gratitude for continuing on.
In reinventing her sound, Ware had to capitalize on the hallmarks she’d already cultivated: lush vocal harmonies, humid soundscapes and heart-tugging emotions. She settled on a brazen, dance floor disco diva aura and pursued it to full effect, creating not only one of the best records of 2020, but one of the greatest disco records of this century so far. Each moment is an expertly crafted love letter to the electric highs of the Studio 54 era, down to the stone-cold album cover inspired by an Andy Warhol polaroid of Bianca Jagger.
Strings confidently guide the album, buoying Ware’s angelic, contoured soprano through blissful opener “Spotlight” and beyond. Each song sees the diva teaching a course on vocal restraint and timing. She glides in and out of focus, hanging just behind the beat on “Spotlight” as if she’s in the midst of a twirl, just about to lose her balance. The industrial hi-hats on the title track lift her breathy vocals like a trampoline. Her staccato delivery in the chorus of “Step Into My Life” is attention-grabbing and pleasing in all the right ways. Sometimes it feels like these songs wrote themselves.
The album is so consistent, packed with brilliant musical flourishes and smile-inducing hooks, picking favorites becomes more of an annoying chore. It’s easier to simply bask in the aura and appreciate the reverence that Ware brings to the project. By the time the album’s wrapping up, the closer “Remember Where You Are” is a harbinger for the decade we’ve now entered. Sure, we lost ourselves in the disco (in our kitchen), but the times are changing.
Ware clings to this notion that an era of wonton sex and drugs is not too far gone because it lives, for risk of being cheeky, in our hearts. What’s Your Pleasure? speaks less to reinvention of the sonic kind, as disco’s been done well before (and several times in 2020). The reinvention Ware achieves with this record is a reinvention of the soul, and it’s time to climb aboard that train.