Jessie Ware Devotion
The A.V. Club reviews a lot of records every week, but some things still slip through the cracks. Stuff We Missed looks back at notable releases from this year that we didn’t review at their time of release.
Devotion, the 2012 wave-making debut album from U.K. singer-songwriter Jessie Ware, inspired a host of breathless descriptors (“sensual,” “sultry,” “lush”) and reference points (Sade, Eurythmics, Portishead) all circling around, but not quite zeroing in on, the core of the album’s appeal. Sure, the album is sexy in both content and delivery, and cross-pollinates dance music with easy-listening in a manner that scans as “adult”; but there’s a youthful, warm energy emanating from Ware’s vocals that enervates Devotion, making it more than a mere exercise in restrained, sophisticated sexiness.
A former backup singer, Ware has a voice that’s more than capable of pop-diva theatrics, but more often than not she downshifts, insinuating her voice into a track’s atmosphere until the ideal moment, when she deploys the full strength of her vocals to their most affecting potential. On “Running,” Ware slinks and sighs over a yacht-rock groove (handily earning those Sade comparisons), explodes at a key moment, then backs off again for an affecting conclusion; on “Sweet Talk,” she hints at a Whitney Houston-like belt, but keeps it constrained within the song’s chilly synth confines; and on “Wildest Moments” she plays the role of indie-pop chanteuse, her bell-like voice rising and falling on the waves of a booming hook. Sometimes, Devotion leans too heavily on its showy beats, resulting in opulent but empty boutique fodder like “No To Love.” But overall, Ware and her producers—Dave Okumu of The Invisible, Julio Bashmore, and Kid Harpoon—seem extraordinarily in sync, homing in on the intoxicating middle ground between swooning pop dramatics and chilly electronic sophistication.