My Top 20 Songs of 2012 #11: Jessie Ware – ‘110%’

jessie ware

Sophisticated. Never has a word been more likely to turn me off from listening to a record. Sophisticated, to me, suggests artists who run the gamut from the soporific to the somnolent, from Emeli Sandé to Dark Side of the Moon. Well constructed, but about as exciting as a five hour talk from Iain Duncan Smith, followed by a feature-length film of Alan Shearer’s Match of the Day contributions.

So when Jessie Ware’s reviews featured liberal use of the word ‘sophisticated’, I didn’t exactly rush to  find out what the fuss was about. Then, whilst listening to Lauren Laverne’s 6Music show, a song came on that made me stop what I was doing, so that I could listen out for what the hell this was. It sounded incredible. It was Jessie Ware’s ‘110%’.

Yes, it sounded immaculate. Yes, it was easy to throw around terrifying adjectives such as ‘smooth’, ‘sensual’, or indeed ‘sophisticated’. Yes, it was called ‘110%’, which is likely to make me react like this. However, to paraphrase the hoary old cliché, this was only a small part of the iceberg, it was what was lurking underneath that was important.

The influence that really shone through for me was from underground dance act Zomby, whose Dedication album had entranced me last year. Is it coincidence that Jessie Ware’s album ended up with the title Devotion*? The arrangement of 110% is minimal and sparse, which gives it an ethereal, unsettling feel that undermines the idea of this being a ‘sensual’ record. Certainly, I’m not sure I’d want to be in the throes of passion whilst a deep, stentorian voice occasionally hollers “carving my initials on your forehead” at me. I’d probably find a corner in which to curl up and weep. The lyrics are equally unsettling, with Ware singing breathily about “bodies jerking”, but that “still ain’t working” and “dancing on my own”. Emeli Sandé, this is not.

The truly incredible thing about this record is how big it feels. Despite the ethereal vocals, the sparse arrangement and the downbeat/weird lyrics, the first thing this record makes you want to do is to roar the word “TUNE!!”. Perhaps it’s the thumping bass line that underpins the skittish beat, or maybe it’s just that you’re hearing something that doesn’t feel the need to throw the musical equivalent of the kitchen sink at you, like a needy, deeply irritating child, desperately craving your attention (I’m looking at you Will.I.Am, you ludicrous ninny).

Sometimes it’s bloody wonderful to have your preconceptions challenged.

 

 

*yes, it probably is

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