The second half of 2020 has arrived, and with it, hopefully, more stability. There’s much to address right now in the disarray that is our world — with a pandemic, racial injustice and more in our midst.
But June 26, English pop singer Jessie Ware gifted a pause with the release of her fourth album, the disco-inspired What’s Your Pleasure? This record comes as the close to a several-year break, during which Ware says she felt musically stuck. The era of her third album Glasshouse, released in 2017, saw a discouraging Coachella performance and a not-so-prosperous tour.
But now, Ware is back. Or rather, she’s here. New and bold as ever.
From the start, the Londoner said her aim for the album was escapism, and she has more than delivered. In Ware’s album, the world stops, the lights dim, the disco balls drop and listeners are cast into 53 minutes of pop, funk and soul.
First and foremost, this album is sensual. The titular second track, for instance, exudes confident mystique through sharp and dark synths. The chorus breathes a repetition of “Here together, what’s your pleasure?” fueling a deeper and deeper immersion into dreamy disco. “Ooh La La” and “Read My Lips” also toy with cheeky innuendo. The way in which suggestive undertones are shamelessly woven into the lyrics and vocals encourages listeners to retreat into themselves and cut out surroundings.
Though rich with fun, What’s Your Pleasure? is not without heaviness. Ware offers space to get lost, but also to be real. This softer vulnerability does not take away from the escape; it strengthens the album as a personal getaway.
“In Your Eyes” and “The Kill,” for example, each bear a darkness. Through broken harmonies and daunting rhythms, Ware creates a musical swell that signals adversity, entrapment even. Her voice wears a drop of despair in these songs, which both grapple with uncertainty in different ways — of her career and a sexual encounter, respectively.
Vulnerability also shines through in the album’s lighter fare, such as “Remember Where You Are” and “Adore You.” The latter specifically is an airy, steady piece, with delicate vocals and electronic notes. Ware shows a glimpse of herself as a mother, beautifully expressing the love she feels toward her unborn child.
But don’t be mistaken — what Ware wants for her listeners is ultimately pleasure. The album holds deeper moments, but there is still a bounce that does not dull, per outrageously catchy tracks such as “Ooh La La” and “Soul Control.”
Ware taps into lust, motherhood, politics and more, but maintains a pleasure through and through. This drives home a sense of all-immersive liberation.
By the same token, however, this strong consistency of seduction does chip away, in slight, at the album’s dynamism. Even songs that are supposedly not centered on seduction seem to impress the theme anyway via title, mood or lyrics. This quality lends the album a risk of coming off as just sexy, an injustice to its more complicated contours.
What’s Your Pleasure? is refined escapism. Ware crafts an escape that is reasonably irresponsible, but still laced with awareness.
This music serves as a remedy to burnout and a celebration of sorts. The album is for everyone, a reset one can owe themselves. It helps to recenter and get in touch with intention — one of the most valuable efforts to pour energy into.
And so, Ware nods to peril, but crafts a lush, productive pleasure. This record is an experience as well as a conversation. Half of the songs are titled in first person, and all are a mission of allure. Ware calls for listeners to look inward and seek clarity.
The last song, “Remember Where You Are,” echoes this very sentiment.
“So darling, remember, remember/ Where you are,” Ware gently sings. Her voice carries intimacy and compassion, for whomever may be listening.