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Album Review: Jessie Ware – Devotion

It’s rare in our office that I hang onto singles. We don’t really get sent all that many, and we don’t really cover single releases (I’m not convinced that anyone really buys records based on release date any more) but they still flood through the door. Still, they all get a spin #ontheNotionstereo. Looking through one of the several boxes of records I have on my desk from the last few years at Notion, there’s only three singles that I’ve hung onto from 2012: and two of those are from Jessie Ware (the other is the brilliant Lancastrian duo, Bondax, but that’s another story).

Jessie Ware makes what can only be described as brilliant pop music. It’s what we at Notion are always looking for; anathema to the Guettaisation of the charts and T4 on the Beach. Pop music that takes us somewhere otherworldly; that thinks there’s no box to think outside of; that plays with the form; that innovates; that stirs our hearts. Majestic singles like ‘Running’ and ‘110%’ play out like the best-known pop songs of ‘80s megastars – there’s something epic and cinematic about the way Jessie’s songs build to a perfect crescendo without her having to shout and scream like some latter day Verruca Salt.

Jessie’s voice soars above the songs; sounding almost disembodied or hovering, lyrics are delivered with a serene sense of sincerity. Tracks like ‘Swansong’ shimmer with this stateliness, their tempo and grace reflects the meaning of the lyrics. Then there’s ‘Sweet Talk’: playful and joyful, it’s like spending the morning in bed with your other half. The ‘80s message is clear with syncopated beats and power-ballad bass drum thumps; the record reverberates to airy backing noises and digital-Casio interjections. This is not however a laboured pastiche or bandwagon-jumping; it’s a record that offers a clear vision of how pop music oughta sound.

Aside from a pack of brilliant songs, it’s because every song has the qualities of a single. After a few listens and a triumphant playback comes a realisation: with each track comes a successive, brilliant (better?) track. ’ The opening three tracks all kick off with distinctive riffs that flick a switch in your brain saying ‘Oooh I remember this, it’s great!’ That’s partly down to slick, nuanced and cohesive production from offbeat knobtwiddlers like Dave Okumu, Julio Bashmore and Kid Harpoon, partly down to Jessie’s lovelorn, richly-textured lyrics. On a record so packed with so much perfectly-timbred pop, it can be easy to forget minor classics like ‘Still Love Me’ and ‘Something Inside’.

I get the criticism of this record, I do. Without a dancefloor banger, it’s going to hit the Grazia-and-cupcakes crowd and be lumbered in with MOR bellyfondlers like Emeli Sandé. But really, this is a future classic. Like Sade, Mica Paris, Lykke Li, Grace Jones, and all those fabulous, forgotten female singers who chose brilliant songs and artistry over glossy media deals and overexposure, Jessie has written a record that probably isn’t destined for the chart greatness that it deserves. It’s that rare thing in modern music: an album of pop music songs for people who don’t like popular music. And it’s that rare thing in our office: an album I’ll be hanging on to.

‘Devotion’ by Jessie Ware is out today on PMR Records

-       Seb Law

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