Jessie Ware : Glasshouse (Review)
By Eish Sumra
It’s hard to understand where to place Jessie Ware. With two UK Top 10 albums, sold out tours, Brit Award nominations, fans like Russell Crowe, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, she still exists as a midway between the charts and the underground. Her songs are known to the public but her name is one only her fans know. It is no surprise that, three records in, she is still suffering from imposter syndrome - the feeling that she is still just a music fan blagging her way into an industry she has loved her whole life. That mentality has never before been on such an unambiguous display, until now. Her third record “Glasshouse” is her most pop sounding record but also a record where she sounds most at home and comfortable being the artist that many knew she could be, yet it’s her inability to sound confident that is most striking and at times her biggest flaw and at others her greatest asset.
The album kicks off with what is perhaps the best vocal performance of the year in “Midnight”, she is confident and bizarrely happy on a delightfully bold staccato piece of piano soul. It’s her best song, by a mile. It twists and turns from minor chord lusting to jazzy longing. This song is already a fan favorite. “Thinking About You” forgoes the soul in favor of a more saccharine Ed Sheeran/Taylor Swift pop anthem. “Stay Awake, Wait For Me” is a subtle slice of “Tough Love” styled coffee table music, but this time with deceptively hypnotic backing vocals and guitar licks. It’s Ware at her finest, perfectly restrained and gorgeously executed. While it feels like a late night wine track, it’s really quite a meaningful song about being a working mother.
“Your Domino” at first glance is a pretty run of the mill, featherweight moment and a chance to replicate the French house brilliance of her early track “If You’re Never Gonna Move”. However this time she overdoes the whispering, and the track never reaches anything too remarkable. “Alone” in the same way as “Champagne Kisses” from her previous album, is the grower of the record. It’s beautifully paced, with a warm piano chord progression and a near perfect blend of “diva Ware” and “understated Ware.” However, like many of Ware’s choruses, she doesn't push herself. It’s a great single, with a similar vibe to “Wildest Moments”, but unlike previous single “Midnight” it doesn’t overwhelm, you feel Ware pulled back a little. “Selfish Love” is perhaps her most memorable song to date, it glides at a glacial pace, but it’s cool - Ware has crafted a slinky Bossa Nova guitar and simple, teasing beats behind it. It sounds very Radio 2/Heart FM (if you’re British you’ll get the reference), but she makes it her own. It’s her least edgy track and pushes her deep into the Adult Contemporary genre, but it really is a great song, as simple as it sounds.
“First Time” and “Hearts” pass by without much attention. They’re nice enough tracks but nothing too memorable. “Slow Me Down” is pretty seductive but again only teases the listener instead of being more in your face like her “Tough Love” era slow-jams. “Last of The True Believers” is lovely but frustrating. She lets her voice loose at times, but it’s as if she realizes her baby is in the next room and needs to quieten down. When the drums kick in the chorus, it’s the kind of free-spirited head-bobbing tune that has become a staple at her concerts and this one is a welcome increase in speed.
“Sam” is an eye-watering album closer. With the slow strumming of Ed Sheeran's co-write, “Sam” feels like a career highlight. It’s honest, open and unwaveringly introspective. With the last few jazzy tones of a saxophone, Ware leaves you with a little taste of what could have been if she had been even more of an open book on this record.
While Devotion was her “cool” record, Tough Love her stylish one, Glasshouse is her turning point. This record has a very particular sound to it, it’s less experimental but less self-conscious and at its heart, very beautiful. When it falls flat, it’s disappointing. But when it soars, you can’t beat it. Jessie Ware still lacks self-assurance and by the sounds of things is still very timing aware (at the age of 33 she has spoken of herself a mature artist). However when she lets herself go and confronts her own emotions and passion, there are still few that can match her. Ware is no longer the imposter, one suspects this album will affirm her seat at the table, and hopefully a little more confidence with it.