Jessie Ware’s “Tough Love” is lovely, and that’s not a tepid endorsement. No, the English singer’s sophomore disc is lovely in the way of a sunset or a cruise around the lazy river after a long day at the waterpark.
The whole thing is a pleasure to enjoy, with Ware laying bare her aches and pains over a series of down-tempo tracks, her vocals easing listeners from song-to-song like a gentle current.
The title track and lead single, produced by BenZel (the duo that includes heavy-hitter Benny Blanco), has Prince-in-the-80s written all over it, and Ware certainly does the vibe justice. She channels the music icon again on “You & I (Forever),” a gem that credits fellow Prince fan, R&B singer Miguel, who also lends his songwriting help on the deliciously sultry R&B track, “Kind of. Sometimes. Maybe.”
“Sweetest Song” very nearly lives up to its title, thanks to lush layers of guitars and echoing background vocals. “Champagne Kisses” is fun, and the vocal harmonies of “Keep on Lying” are nothing short of beautiful.
Ware’s easygoing pace sometimes works against her, though, increasing the likelihood that listeners are lulled into listening autopilot. But an unexpected musical build up or twist, such as in the final minute or so of the Ed Sheeran-assisted “Say You Love Me,” does a good job of keeping ears engaged.
Other times, like on “Pieces,” Ware arrests attention from the beginning. “It’s illogical, I was nothing without you, you oughta know, I was lost when I found you,” she sings, exerting her voice over a striking arrangement of strings.
Ware’s “Tough Love” is certainly not for everyone, but of course, neither are sunsets or lazy rivers.
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