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ALBUM REVIEW: JESSIE WARE – WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? (VIRGIN)

The Mercury-nominated singer-songwriter returns to her earlier, dance-leaning roots – and delivers one of 2020’s finest albums ***** Five stars

If you’ve been missing your regular dose of weekend clubbing action during lockdown, then Jessie Ware’s fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure?, will surely come as a massive comfort. To intents and purposes, the Hammersmith-born singer has, with these 12 tracks, crafted a glorious, kaleidoscopic celebration of dancefloor culture. Awash with sultry, sexy grooves and rousing hi-energy disco bangers, it’s the sort of record which will make you want to dig out your finest sequins and strut your stuff – irrefutable proof that there’s nothing quite like pop music to make you shed your inhibitions.

All this will surely come as great news, of course, for those who are particularly fond of Ware’s 2012 debut album, the Mercury-nominated Devotion. For many Jessie Ware fans (this writer included), it remains her most future-facing album, a record whose cutting-edge production and dynamic grooves earned her comparisons to Frank Ocean. Her subsequent LPs – 2014’s Tough Love and 2017’s Glasshouse – were both well received but, if we’re to be honest, they simply lacked the seductive edge of her debut. Glasshouse, in particular, seemed to stray a little closely towards Radio 2-friendly, MOR balladry.

That’s certainly not an accusation you could label at her fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure?, finally released this week after several COVID-19-incurred delays. Crackling with verve and vivacity, it’s a record which sees Ware returning to her club roots – and, we’ve pleased to say, she’s never sounded better. There’s no safe, stately balladry here. Rather, Ware – alongside Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford – has assembled a rich, textured soundscape in which classic funk, house and disco collides with innovative, futurist pop production.

These are songs designed for lusty, steamy summer nights tripping the light fantastic. Opening track ‘Spotlight’ kicks off with a sweeping orchestra before exploding into a flurry of synth swells and gyrating bass; the funk-fuelled title track echoes the work of fellow disco queen Roisin Murphy; whilst the shimmering, soulful ‘Mirage (Don’t Stop)’ perfectly captures those moments of 3am dancefloor delirium. It’s as though Ware has gobbled up several decades of her favourite party music, and What’s Your Pleasure? – from the Robyn-esque pulse of ‘Save A Kiss’ to the gospel-powered ‘Remember Where You Are’ – is her own beautifully curated playlist.

Most crucially, these are songs which bring out the very best in Ware’s vocal abilities. Although she’s clearly capable of X Factor-style vocal acrobatics (as Glasshouse proved), Ware’s voice has always been a much more idiosyncratic, versatile instrument. These 12 tracks – with their themes of longing and sexual desire – provide the perfect platform on which to showcase her playful, flirtatious side.

In returning to her roots, Jessie Ware has delivered the finest, most accomplished album of her career. However, this isn’t just an album for those hardcore fans who prefer her earlier, more dynamic material; it’s very much a record for anyone who believes in music’s unique ability to provide fantasy and escapism. After these past few months of lockdown, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

What’s Your Pleasure? is released via Virgin on Friday June 26.

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