On ‘That! Feels Good!’, Jessie Ware demands that you seek pleasure in your life.
Credit: EMI/Jessie Ware
Ware’s fifth studio outing is beautifully, deliberately fun, but she never lets you forget what’s at stake.
Tension is the killer component of dance music. It’s a weapon that, when utilised to its fullest, compels you to move in ways other artforms simply cannot. Pulling off tension, however, requires circumstances to be just right. A salmon pink album cover and a title adorned with exclamation marks doesn’t appear to meet those needs, and when you find out that this is Jessie Ware’s campest release to date, it seems even less so.
But That! Feels Good! isn’t dropping in regular conditions. It’s 2023, a time when life in Britain is simultaneously better than it has ever been compared to previous generations, and also worse than has ever been previously conceivable. A car-crash government serving a menu of transphobia, xenophobia and anti-environmentalism week-on-week, a pliable right wing media cabal happy to play along with it, and a dire set of economic conditions.
Yes, living in modern Britain is draining in an admonishing number of ways. What to do then? Look to the dawn, and behold Jessie Ware riding a wave of pearls, champagne and horniness, proclaiming that “Pleasure is a right”. That! Feels Good! is far from an out-and-out political record, but her fifth studio outing certainly has an agenda. Something here is at stake, and boy does it give this beautiful festival of flamboyance plenty of tension.
“The sound is hard to explain in conventional language. I find it easier to describe it as this GIF of Countess Luann, of Real Housewives of New York fame, dancing in a gold dress.”
The words ‘Jessie’ and ‘Ware’ inherently mean that, as far as musical audiences go, we’ll be talking primarily about queer ones. Since her career-defining return in 2020 with What’s Your Pleasure?, her status as an icon of LGBTQ+ music has been cemented forever. At some point, in deciding how her 2023 follow-up might pan out, the question must have arisen about how gay this new record might be.
The answer? That! Feels Good! is astonishingly, unequivocally, almost unbelievably gay. The instrumentation blares camp from every orifice. The vocals range from cabaret-esque to pride party dancefloor affair. The sound is hard to explain in conventional language. I find it easier to describe it as this GIF of Countess Luann, of Real Housewives of New York fame, dancing in a gold dress.
In truth, you can pin the record’s sound down into something that will make sense to people who don’t use the phrase “pop girlies” in general conversation. It’s a clarity-focused take on proper 70’s Disco, stupendously well researched and completed with modern flourishes. It’s much the same technique she pulled off so well on What’s Your Pleasure?, only this time, she’s aimed for something less serious and far more flamboyant. Perhaps ‘gay’ is too loose a term to use, but then again, look at the salmon pink of that album cover, and how much work went into styling her hair.
James Ford returns for production duty, delivering an effortless style that makes room for gorgeous detail and plenty of punch. A few trips to other bits of dance music history – ‘Freak Me Now’* walked straight out of Les Bains Douches circa 1998, whilst ‘Lightning’ conveys Ray Of Light-era Madonna through and through – and Ware knocks out a buoyant, riveting 40 minute blast.
*Make sure to check out the single edit featuring Róisín Murphy. It’s everything and more.
“…Ware doesn’t let you forget what she’s standing for. Love is the agenda; it pours out the record in every form, and experience of it is what’s at stake.”
Though it passes easily through your speakers, Ware doesn’t let you forget what she’s standing for. Love is the agenda; it pours out of the record in every form, and experience of it is what’s at stake. High romanticism, outrageous flirtation and the occasional moment of downright filth are found across the runtime. With such a command of her style and her presence, none of it leaves you feeling awkward, and indeed she embraces the cheesiness of it all with candor. In doing so, the space she creates is one you immediately want to cherish. Pleasure is a right, it is your right to experience it, and Ware’s album is a tool at your disposal for achieving that.
Better than just offering a statement of intent, Ware brings the vision of her world of pleasure-liberation to life. Just listen to the night out she describes on ‘Beautiful People’ – it borders on being a shopping list of ways to feel better about yourself. Indeed, lyrics across the record are often directed at you, the listener, asking what you’ve done for yourself lately, whether it be loving yourself or “[putting] that ass on the floor” as on ‘Freak Me Now’. The Disco sound ensures the record never leaves the realm of clubs, dancefloors and bars, each track its own particular room or venue. Meanwhile, that effortless production ensures that this thing will feel at home no matter what time of day or night you want to whack it on.
As has been the trend with all of her material this decade thus far, she keeps managing to top her previous highs, and some of her best cuts are to be found here. ‘Free Yourself’ remains the thumping, towering dancefloor filler it was upon release last year, shifting the album into full throttle in its opening half. ‘Begin Again’, the album’s most dramatic moment, is enormous in every regard, and certainly destined to be a firebrand on her live sets. There’s one track, however, that I keep coming back to at the moment; the glorious, soaring ‘Pearls’, almost too gay to function. Luckily, Ware is having the time of her life on that chorus, and it whacks a massive grin on my face every time I hear it.
“…‘Pearls’, almost too gay to function. Luckily, Ware is having the time of her life on that chorus, and it whacks a massive grin on my face every time I hear it.”
In the joy that every moment of the album brings, you quickly come to realise that what’s at stake is the right to experience this. If our government aren’t trying to deny existences for queer people, then the stream of political shit they keep pouring into our newsfeeds, economy and our rivers certainly doesn’t help either. Having ‘fun’ has almost become an alien concept.
But luckily, we have Ware to remind us just what that word means. Stepping into That! Feels Good! has yet to fail me. The seriousness and coolness of What’s Your Pleasure? was always going to be hard to match. So instead, she’s ducked the question, and made something deliberately bright and joyous instead. It’s a party in of itself, perfectly suited to dancing outdoors as the sun goes down or a sweaty club room at 2am. Against the murky backdrop of 2023 Britain, it offers a certainty and happiness that few things are giving at the moment.
For Ware, a streak that began back in 2020 has just entered a whole new plain of existence, camper, dirtier and brighter than ever before. That! Feels Good! is all ends of the spectrum and everything in between, a scintillating slab of Disco that commands you to dance and to love. We’re bearing witness to one of the pop artists of our age in their prime, and it’s a party that you won’t want to miss.
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