Jessie Ware - Tough Love (LP, CD, Deluxe CD)
Tough Love finds the singer who made her name in the world of dubstep stretching further into pop environs, with help from the likes of Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Miguel and Ed Sheeran. The Kate Bush-inspired title track that opens the album is already brighter and warmer than anything she has done before. The radio-ready but cool throbbing beats of “You and I” successfully split the difference between her “indie Sade” past and the pop horizon she now faces. Still, she’s really in her element amid the chilled out synths and digital handclaps of the sumptuous “Cruel.” Ware’s voice is in top form throughout, working wonders on the soulful “Say You Love Me,” amid gospel touches and a skittering beat. Her biggest issue is still somewhat anonymous lyrics, but the music and her voice always seems to make the most of them, driving home lyrics of heartbreak with a nuanced touch, while the tenuously sexy “Kind Of … Sometimes … Maybe” shows off her personality brilliantly, coming off as an update on Janet Jackson’s coy sensuality, filtered through Ware's old soul. Musically, Ware and her collaborators manage to move all over the map and make it seem like they’re travelling a straight line, keeping things rhythmically intriguing on tracks like the sultry “Sweetest Song” and even making room for a throwback disco track like “Want Your Feeling.” If it’s less cohesive than her debut, Devotion, it’s also a lot more fun, and perhaps more consistently rewarding. Tough Love should find Ware expanding her audience beyond the soul, electronica and indie fans who have already discovered her and into the pop realm without losing a shred of her estimable cool.