Tough Love is a subtle and sultry addition to Jessie Ware’s archive. Her sound and style is very thematic and consistent throughout, giving the album a very wholesome and complete feel to it. Most of the songs feature a slow, rhythmic beat with a poignant electronic presence – the smooth 80’s influence is undeniable, especially on tracks ‘Want Your Feeling’ and ‘All On You’. The complete sound the album creates is great up until the 7th or 8th song, until a few tracks begin to sound a little samey. Still, with the easy-listening and chilled vibe, the songs slide into each other nicely – you may not even notice.
The concept of Tough Love, as a whole, paints a picture of unrequited love (slightly awkwardly as she tied the knot to her long-term love very recently). Ware has made herself very vulnerable with the stripped back sound and ‘heart-on-sleeve’ lyrics; the fourth track on the album, ‘Say You Love Me’, demonstrates this perfectly. Lyrically, Ware is frank and honest, a refreshing insert into the pool of flowery love songs we hear every day.
Jessie Ware’s voice is as velvety and cool as ever. In many of the verses of her songs, she gives the impression of simply opening her mouth and the voice falling out – very cool and effortless like she doesn’t even have to try. The choruses of her songs are a different story however, where you hear her voice elevate and strengthen. This contrast is quite brilliant.
Ware was not alone in the production of this album – Tough Love features a few collaborations. ‘Say You Love Me’ was co-written and produced with the chart-friendly Ed Sheeran, and you can absolutely tell. Their musical lovechild features all the components you’d expect from a big ballad. Pained lyrics and massive vocals? Check. Echoed drums and electric guitar? Check. Gospel choir accompanied with clapping? Absolutely. Miguel also makes a couple of appearances in Tough Love, helping to create ‘You & I (Forever)’, and in ‘Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe’, where he interjects with phrases such as “Do you miss me?” and “Baby come over” in a Boys II Men like fashion, and yes, it is as creepy as it sounds.
Personally, the stand out track on the album is ‘Pieces’. Lyrically, the song is heartbreaking – “I had to shatter to pieces, you made me reveal myself, reveal myself, so if you no longer need them, then give them to someone else’. The violins make the track dramatic and almost haunting. The title track, “Tough Love’ (and my current song of choice in the shower – sorry housemates), is very understated, and Ware’s falsetto is effortless and beautiful. ‘Keep on Lying’ is similarly a very subtle addition to the album, and Ware’s vocals are brilliant, and rest assured the more you listen to it the strange, Pacman-esque accompaniment does become less noticeable. Compared to Jessie Ware’s 2012 album Devotion, the layering in the songs on Tough Love is higher, making the songs seem more angelic, and the lyrics are definitely more emotional. Devotion could be argued to be the cooler album of the two.
All in all the album is understated, very sultry, and at some points, mesmerising.