Jessie Ware takes us on a guided tour of club history on What’s Your Pleasure? (out now). The much-loved Brit dabbles in dreamy disco, ’80s funk and ’90s club culture on her 4th album, which isn’t an entirely unique approach. Other artists have turned to the dance floors of yore for inspiration with varying degrees of success. What makes this such a triumph is the attention to detail. There isn’t an ’80s synth, disco string or bass line out of place. Moreover, the most important instrument — Jessie’s extraordinary voice — is front and center at all times.
In some ways, What’s Your Pleasure picks up where Devotion left off. They are both wonderfully contained records that pick a speed and stick with it to convey mood and emotion. As much as I adore Tough Love and Glasshouse, you sometimes get the feeling that there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Production duties are streamlined this time around with James Ford taking the lead. A long-time friend and collaborator, his ability to dip into different club sub-genres and eras is genuinely impressive. Together, they conjure some of the best dance anthems of the year.
Opening an album with a song as spectacular as “Spotlight” could have been a misstep. The dreamiest dose of disco since flares went out of fashion is an instant classic. Its achingly lovely lyrics and intricate production set the bar extraordinarily high, but I’m happy to report that the quality of the album never dips. After seducing us with “Spotlight,” Jessie takes us straight over to the continent for a burst of Italo-disco on the flirty title track and then time-travels to the mid ’80s for the Cameo-channeling “Ooh La La.”
When it comes to album highlights, “Soul Control” and “Save A Kiss” have to be in the mix. The former falls somewhere between Stacey Q and Jody Watley (yes, it’s that good), while the latter is disco-pop perfection. There’s a general misconception that electronic music has to be frivolous and forgettable. “Save A Kiss,” however, is proof that synth-pop can be sophisticated in its construction and execution — and convey deep emotion. This is song that wraps around you like a warm blanket.
Just when you think Jessie going to give you blisters from all the dancing, she switches tempo. “Adore you,” the album’s blissful lead single, is a restrained electronic lullaby, while “In your Eyes” is a throwback to the Sade-in-a-club approach of Devotion. It’s another standout track that earns its five-minute running time. And don’t worry, there’s no second-half slump. The next step on the soul siren’s magical club tour is the 1970s. She serves racy temptress on “Step Into My Life” and keeps that energy on “Read My Lips,” a bop that wouldn’t sound out of place on Diana Ross’ The Boss album.
As we reach the final stretch, Jessie delivers a hat trick of gems. “Mirage (Don’t Stop)” memorably interpolates Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” while “The Kill” gives me Sally Shapiro flashbacks. If you love ’80s electronica, particularly of the euro-variety, this is an absolute must-hear. It’s also one of the 35-year-old’s most interesting vocals as she coos, whispers and seduces with each note. Given that we are currently living in a hell-scape, Jessie is wise enough to end on an uplifting note.
“Remember Where You Are” is a sprawling love song that evokes the infamous midnight-disco moment — AKA the song that would inspire lovers to twirl around the floor for a slow dance just before the lights went on. It’s dripping with emotion and wide-eyed optimism. With What’s Your Pleasure?, Jessie delivers just under an hour of pure diversion. This is the kind of all-filler, no-killer opus that you can get lost in again and again. It’s still early days, but JW4 just might be the best album of 2020. It’s going to take something extraordinary to dethrone it.