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Review: Jessie Ware’s “Tough Love”

So far this decade, R&B has been experiencing a golden age. From Miguel and Frank Ocean to How To Dress Well and James Blake, boundary pushing R&B has experienced a critical and commercial renaissance in the past few years. Meanwhile, acting as a tide to rise all boats, Adele’s 21 has been an unstoppable sales juggernaut. Tapping into an unknown appetite for traditional folk R&B, 21 rode several monster singles to become the only 10 million seller of this decade.

It was into this atmosphere that Jessie Ware released her 2012 debut Devotion. While it would have been easy to get lost in the flood, Ware stood out by seamlessly blending sleek electronic production with traditional balladry. While she didn’t find a massive crossover audience, the record sold well in England and positioned Ware as an artist to watch for. On her follow up, Tough Love, Jessie Ware continues to pursue her brand of futurist R&B, while also steering closer to the mainstream.

The record opens with “Tough Love,” a propulsive ballad about heart break and disappointment. The following track is albums standout “You & I (Forever),” a slinky ode to monogamous devotion. Ware has always written songs about matters of the heart, but on Tough Love the situations seem more detached then they had on Devotion, more broad in their reach. The ultimate example of this trend towards anonymity is the Ed Sheeran co-written “Say You Love Me.”  Bland and corny, “Say You Love” me represents a naked attempt to court the Celine Dion market, which in theory is a natural move for Ware, but here just sounds lame and desperate.

While the record has a misfire or two, they don’t take away from the overall whole of Tough Love. Beyond Sheeran, Ware chooses well with her collaborators, finding natural chemistry with Miguel on the seething “Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe” and fitting into Dev Hynes’ signature disco stomp perfectly on “Want Your Feeling.”  The record stays consistent to the end, with “Champagne Kisses” and “Desire” ending things on an upswing, and it’s hard not to call the overall product a success.

Still, Ware proved she is capable of more than just success with Devotion. For those thinking Ware might release a true masterpiece, Tough Love is a let down, but those standards do a disservice to just how good the album is. Sometimes an artist needs to refine their sound before they can take their next big step, and if that’s the case with Jessie Ware, then Tough Love is a damn good product of that refinement.

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