Album Review: What's Your Pleasure?
Updated: Jul 14, 2022
Jessie Ware made her debut in 2012, with her brilliant album, Devotion. She had a heavenly voice, using elements of modern R&B with hints of dance music in the catchy, punchy production. It was nothing revolutionary, but a great album nonetheless, beginning the career of an artist who would go on to create my favourite album.
While her next two albums - Tough Love and Glasshouse - had their highlights, overall they failed to impress me in the same way as Devotion. I felt lukewarm towards them, adoring one track, only to be indifferent to the following three. Her music, while well made, just didn't hook me in the same way it had with her debut. But in 2020, Jessie Ware returned from a three year break from music, and put a new spin on her sound which made her music so much more captivating. What's Your Pleasure? is an unapologetic disco revival album, showcasing some of Jessie's grandest vocal performances over a range of groovy and unforgettable disco instrumentals.
The opener, 'Spotlight', is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. It opens with some elegant strings and soft piano, where Jessie sings in such a soothing tone about when her dreams of love will become real. It holds such a theatrical sound, leading to a sudden transition into a synth-laced disco groove which doesn't feel jarring as Jessie's beautiful voice works perfectly over both types of instrumental. In the song's climactic finish, Jessie's vocals are layered over her own voice, with the punching drums, steady disco beat and swelling strings all culminating into a climax as powerful as it is catchy. Jessie is able to fuse the dramatic flare of a musical with the irresistible grooves of disco, creating such a blissful and addictive sound.
This gorgeous disco sound continues into the title track to the album, 'What's Your Pleasure?' It's a seductive banger with some hypnotic vocals from Jessie as she chants the chorus. The song is utterly mesmerising, with waves of wild synths rising against the steady disco beat, accompanied by these punching drums which keep the momentum going as the song reaches its climax. Jessie proved with this album that she is a master of song structure, as every song has its own powerful climax, in which all the separate elements fuse together into a cinematic finish. In this case, Jessie's hypnotic backing vocals coincide with the descending synth melody, with the chorus fading into the lavish instrumental as the sparkling synths drown out her voice to end the song in an incredible high.
The groovy bass on 'Ooh La La' is instantly engaging, with little bursts of synth layers rising and fading in the background as Jessie sings. Jessie has such a laid-back, charming performance on the track, hardly reaching the impactful heights of 'Spotlight' but with an awareness that the simple melodies she uses are enough to keep the song captivating and catchy. All the songs on the album follow the same themes of love and seduction, but the lush production and irresistible choruses keep the album fresh and engaging, thus the subject matter never gets monotonous.
This is followed by 'Soul Control'. There are so many subtle elements to the synth-pop instrumental that display just how much effort went into the lavish production. The catchy synths, the funky bass, the subtle backing vocals, the faint guitar - there is so much glamour and personality, bringing the song to life. Jessie embraces the funk, groove, and catchiness of 80s disco, but adds so much more finesse and colour to the sound to the point it could not be mistaken for being derivative in any regard. She strikes the perfect balance between accessibility and artfulness, putting so much detail into the production while also creating some of the catchiest dance songs of the decade.
'Save A Kiss' offers a relative moment of calm on the album, with a spacey instrumental full of quick synth melodies and swelling strings which give the song such power in the chorus. Jessie has such an impactful presence on the song, singing her heart out as the strings rise alongside her voice. The fusion of orchestral and disco elements reads on paper as a jarring and disorganised concept, but Jessie manages to pull off the sound perfectly. The result is a song anyone could dance to, or likewise, anyone could listen closely and appreciate the vigour and strength in Jessie Ware's performance. The elegant instrumental builds around her, adding power to her voice. The songs are so catchy but also substantive, thus the album is not one that can only be appreciated fully on the dance floor.
This period of calm continues into the straightforward dance cut, 'Adore You', leading into the beautiful 'In Your Eyes.' Jessie's vocals here are possibly the best on the album, with a falsetto on the chorus which gives it such an impactful sound compared to the songs around it. The deep, bubbling synths, accompanied by the slow strings and punching drums makes it a far more sombre and patient track, with the instrumental taking a step back for Jessie's incredible voice to be on full display.
The disco-pop bangers continue with 'Step Into My Life' and 'Read My Lips'. The former track makes amazing use of a short and catchy bassline, as well as using horns and strings to give the track a disco flare. The latter track is a straightforward synth-pop masterpiece, with a plucky bassline and bursting synths which are so simple yet so effective as they nest in my head and keep me humming the song for hours.
'Mirage (Don't Stop)' is one of the catchiest songs on the album, where the chorus of "Don't stop moving together" is chanted like an order. The funky bassline is the highlight here, acting as its backbone as layers of punching percussion and glittery synths are layered over it. It sounds like a night club full of dancers, capturing that funky, carefree energy perfectly.
'The Kill' is the closest this album gets to a ballad, with a far darker sound as Jessie's vocals sound disheartened and pained. The themes of love and companionship continue throughout the song, but her haunting vocal performance over the moody synth layers makes it a uniquely sinister song in the track listing. As the song nears its end, however, a wall of strings and backing vocals rise alongside Jessie's voice, sonically acting as the light at the end of the tunnel, like a flicker of hope at the end of a despairing darkness on the album.
Finally, the album closes with the angelic 'Remember Where You Are.' The groovy bassline is far more subtle, as it is washed out by the powerful lead vocals and theatrical strings which are reminiscent of 'Spotlight', bringing the album full circle. The chorus sounds so triumphant, with Jessie's vocals harmonising with the backing vocalists to create such a victorious, powerful end to the gorgeous album.
What's Your Pleasure? has been one of my favourite albums ever since its release. But it is only recently that I've realised that, out of all the music I love, no album makes me happier than this one. Its subject matter is relatively simple - with every song about love, seduction and companionship - but Jessie's songwriting is so creative and charming, thus no verse is dull nor is any lyric uninspired and lifeless. Every element of What's Your Pleasure? has so much vibrancy and life. The lavish production swells with strings and horns, as well as glittering synths and unforgettable basslines which make every track so easy to dance to. Everything feels so dense and precise, but still maintains that catchy heart of what makes disco the iconic sound it is. Jessie Ware has taken the iconic sound of disco and elevated it to new heights, with so much fine detail and elegance to every instrumental and vocal performance. There is so much effort, power, and joy put into this album, and the work it took to make can be heard clearly in the final product. It's a modern masterpiece. Words can't do justice for how gorgeous What's Your Pleasure? is. You will just have to hear it for yourself.
Fav Tracks: Spotlight, What's Your Pleasure?, Ooh La La, Soul Control, In Your Eyes, Mirage (Don't Stop), Remember Where You Are