WHAT'S YOUR PLEASURE? / JESSIE WARE
JessIe Ware has made a perfect slinky, smoky album for the early hours of Sunday mornings, proving that when the lights go up at 3.00am, it’s really just the beginning.
In the Lipa/Gaga album lockdown wars of 2020, JessIe Ware casually sailed up the hard shoulder and overtook them both (probably in a convertible 70’s Cadillac with a glorious mane of hair billowing behind her). “What’s Your Pleasure” is a beautifully crafted soundtrack to that specific post club carnal witching hour where stimulants are still very much being stimulated, and sleep is a far off ever shifting appointment. In many ways it’s the sunnier flipside to Mark Ronson’s 2019 “Late Night Feelings”, inverting the concept of the ‘sad banger’ into something altogether more joyous and primal. “Late Night Yearnings” if you will.
The opening track “Spotlight” beckons you in with the purring, trance-like assertion that ‘a dream is just a dream’, before a bubbling bassline ushers us behind a roped-off VIP section. Because make no mistake, this is Studio 54-era clubbing, not “Legends” on a Thursday night. The artwork reinforces where we’re at, JessIe Ware looking at us like an imperious lioness, bejewelled, bedazzled and dripping in luxury.
The title track ups the carnal ante, beginning with a coy plea to ‘blow out my candle’ before reverting to a more localised instruction to “push…press…more…less.” “Ooh La La” continues the theme, but cos-plays it up with clipped vocals and a pretence at innocence (‘you can stay overnight if you ask politely’). But the coo-ing and come-hither’s are deliberately constructed. It’s always clear who’s in charge.
It would be easy to rely on a lazy approximation of Chic-era Nile Rodgers and Donna Summer disco tropes, but there’s a strong undercurrent of 80’s bleeps and beats, and some odd, interesting flourishes peppered throughout which stops it becoming a nostalgia trip. “Soul Control” has a bouncy, tinny intro that sounds like some Bobby Orlando outtake, whilst “Read My Lips” has a slap bass and keyboard flashes that Level 42 would be proud of. “Step Into My Life” is the album's most seductive moment, starting like a Sade track straight out of 1984, and then giving way to some Pearl and Dean horn blasts. Producer James Ford gives everything a 2020 sheen, but there’s a playful edge to the record that keeps revealing mini surprises the more you listen.
It comes together brilliantly on the single, “Save a Kiss”, probably the album's best track. Over an insidious bassline, JessIe Ware’s vocals curl around words like vapour winding into the air from a newly opened bottle of champagne. It’s the perfect escapist moment from a perfect escapist album, transporting you away from our current regimented world, to a time when spontaneity and break-of-dawn thrills were always a glinting, tantalising possibility.