Seriously, is there a soul out there who doesn’t like Jessie Ware? The way Devotion captured the nation has been a marvel to watch for someone who, essentially, was pretty much unknown three years ago. Like her debut, Tough Love is another meditation on the perils of romance wrapped up in some smoothly-sanded, inoffensive pop-soul packages, and impossible to refuse.
We’ve already been charmed by the title track, but beyond that Ware means business: the first Miguel co-write, You & I (Forever), feels like her most strongest radio-assault to date. Even though it’s about the moment her fella proposed, it never feels cloying, instead bearing the sentiment with a chorus that’s lilting enough for you to wonder why it hasn’t been done before. That’s the kind of feeling Ware extends throughout her records: melodies so breezy and words so casual that hopping aboard them feels like an unconscious decision. Even while that last song dies down, you’re already swept up in the strings of Cruel and the “it’s not just what you say, it’s what you do” refrains.
Ballads? She’s got them by the bucket, and Ed Sheeran co-write Say You Love Me sits right on top as a classic in her canon, being a sumptuous showcase for Ware’s range (not to mention being the perfect excuse for a gospel choir). Meanwhile, Pieces takes more than a chunk out of us all as she sings, “I had to shatter to pieces / it made me reveal myself / so if you longer need them / give them to someone else.” Heavy.
But the joy of Tough Love is that she can balance that saccharine style with something like Sweetest Song, which is more akin to Running in its hushed, restrained night-soul, and the high-octave Champagne Kisses. There is, of course, a slight worry that we’re watching Jessie Ware evolve into a distinctly Radio 2 artist on her second album – you’ll find more edge on a squash ball, quite frankly – but this ain’t the place for Imagine It Was Us bangers. Instead it navigates the crevices of heartbreak to turn out a mature meditation on relationships, without ever sounding schmaltzy or forced. That act’s tough, love, but it’s handled with exceptional grace.