Album Review: Jessie Ware – Devotion

After contributing her vocal prowess to SBTRKT’s highly acclaimed self-titled debut last year, Jessie Ware was associated with a style of music that wasn’t entirely her own. While her melodies on SBTRKT’s debut were beautiful in and of themselves, the beats they were associated with weren’t of her own creation and therefore not a true representation of Jessie Ware as an artist. All of that has changed, though, as her debut album Devotion completely breaks her free of any previous judgments or associations.

With her debut album, Jessie Ware has accomplished what her previous musical contributions haven’t been able to achieve, it has given her an identity. Right from the onset, she sets to break expectations, change perceptions of who she is and how her music represents her. As the titular and opening track “Devotion” starts, it becomes clear that Ware looks to occupy the space between mainstream, radio-friendly R&B and the more electronically doused style of R&B. She imbues her music with a sense of subtlety, seamlessly blending electronic influences with an old school, jazz style of experimentation and pacing.

The pacing that Ware employs throughout her debut is perhaps its most intelligent aspect, and the aspect that results in an entirely refreshing musical experience. Yes, she has hooks. Yes, she has builds and drops. Despite this, she transcends the norm, using the music instead of the music using her. Every guitar riff in “Sweet Talk”, the highs and lows of “Something Inside”, the deep, echoing synths of “Still Love Me”, none of it feels forced. In each case, Ware lets her voice take lead, allowing the music to be an extension of her rather than the other way around.

While this vocal dominance might seem like Ware herself comes across as forced, it is most certainly not the case. Ware shows a great deal of refrain in her voice, exposing the beats and building a subtle relationship between her vocals and the instrumentation. In “110%”, she deftly lowers her voice, giving the beats opportunity to shine before raising her voice to an angelic high. Similarly, “Running” sees Ware softly singing the hook amidst a ‘80s-esque guitar solo, allowing it to build and build before she joins in and delivers a piercing high. The diversity she shows in her voice in conjunction with the music is breathtaking.

Jessie Ware has done exactly what she set out to do, using Devotion as a proving ground, a way of propelling her past being a simple featured artist. Much as SBTRKT’s self-titled debut did for him just over a year ago, Ware has skillfully crafted an identity for herself. Going even further than that, though, Ware attempted to explore a realm of R&B that few have attempted before. Whereas others have faltered in this attempt, she came out unscathed. Jessie Ware is the queen of this realm.

Words by Adrian McCavour