Pearls & Begin Again are awful and really killed any excitement for this album stone dead for me, which is a shame since I loved What’s Your Pleasure.
After the critical and commercial success of What’s Your Pleasure?, Ware found herself ready to embrace a new identity, diving deeper into the soulful grooves of disco and dance. She listened to the music of Earth, Wind & Fire, Grace Jones, Prince, Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Rotary Connection, Tina Marie, The B-52’s and Blondie to infuse her new direction. “It was about not repeating What’s Your Pleasure?, so ‘Remember Where You Are’ was the starting point of a more live, luscious, groove-led sound, which is a bit of a bugger when you don’t have the budget for loads more instruments, live,” says Ware of the new record’s conception.
The first sessions were done during lockdown with Ware and James Ford in his home loft studio in Hackney, where they collaborated with What’s Your Pleasure? co-writers Kuyimba and Parker via video link. “We’d start the session at four in the afternoon, and they’d be getting up from LA, with a coffee. It shouldn’t have worked. It was really awkward. Totally…” she pauses, searching for a word…
“Inorganic?” I offer.
“Totally,” Jessie concurs. “It was exactly what I didn’t want. But, because I’d done the record with them before, because we had this world we’d created and we felt so comfortable, I could have only done that with them. We’d have this thing where they could hear the music at the same time as us, but we were all a bit delayed, so we couldn’t sing over each other because it would just be a fucking catastrophe. So, then we’d all have to silence ourselves, and send voice notes of our ideas. It was incredibly long-winded, rather than being in the room and being like, ‘Oh, I love that bit. Let’s go there.’”
The first song they created would become the album’s third – and current – single, ‘Begin Again’, which, lyrically and thematically, echoed the physical experience of recording. “There’s that tension in it with the lyric “I work all night”. And maybe it was just because I was fucking tired, but there’s the line in it: “Why does all the purest love get filtered through machines?” It felt like there was this barrier, a frustration. But it had all the elements of what I needed and wanted.”
Ware breathed a sigh of relief when Kuyimba was able to fly over from the USA. ‘Finally, this is going to be perfect,’ she thought. And then Ford got COVID and gave it to Kuyimba. Restrictions meant they were forced to isolate. “We were back on bloody Zoom, but at least there wasn’t the time difference. It really was not the romantic story that I wanted. However, I think it shows the strength of our working relationship together, and also maybe having that longing for these live moments amplified the beauty in it.”
They needn’t have worried – the result is a collection of songs that imbue a kind of ethereal energy that floats effortlessly through the album, each track gloriously distinct from the next, while maintaining an elegant, cohesive quality that concept albums can fall short of. “I’m in my Age of Aquarius,” Jessie beams, embracing the power of the astrological era that promises revelation, truth, an expansion of consciousness and enlightenment to humanity.
“I feel the most confident I’ve ever felt, stepping into making music,” says Ware. “I really want to celebrate the beauty of an album, and what an album can represent. I really appreciate the traction I get off streaming sites, and all of that. It’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. But the romantic in me wanted that person to put this album on their vinyl, and just listen to it. And that’s it. I want to be able to cherish that experience, and savour that.”
They recorded a number of tracks, before distilling it down to a neat collection of ten. Acutely aware of how these songs will also come to life, Ware had one eye on the album, and the other on bringing the music to life at her gigs. “I crave this newfound confidence performing, and I feel like the songs are brought to life in another way, and I adore that. I love theatre, I love performances,” Ware says, energised after a sell-out What’s Your Pleasure? tour and supporting Harry Styles.
Thinking about future live shows, she wanted “a kind of cousin, another character one” to ‘Ooh La La’, from the last record, which came in the form of ‘Shake the Bottle’, a song that brims with attitude while recounting a series of affairs through various fictional stories. “It felt melodramatic, and it felt performative with the chorus,” she says. “Then it was like, ‘Well, let’s just amp this up in the verses, too.’ And maybe in the back of my mind I was thinking RuPaul’s Drag Race, maybe I was thinking ‘Lipsync for Your Life’, with these anchors of performance, musical theatre and character.”
That theatricality kicks off the new album with its title track, in which Ware ran through her phone’s contacts to enlist some seriously A-list talent. Listen closely and you’ll hear Róisín Murphy, Jamie Demetriou, Kylie, Aisling Bea and others teasing ‘That! Feels Good!’ in various intonations, from flighty and flirty to downright dirty. Even her mum made the cut. “I think probably I’d been listening to the Prince album Controversy a lot, or something. I wanted that energy. I was like, ‘Who’s a good sport? Who’s got a good voice?’ Like Barry Mulholland (CEO) at Christopher Kane. He’s got a really good Scottish accent, and he’s fucking great.
“I think it’s confident, I think it’s naughty. In my head, I want an army of pleasure-seekers… and we’re all doing it together,” she says. “I’m kind of obsessed with that feeling of togetherness.”
With the album’s first single, ‘Free Yourself’, Ware fully embraced her emancipation. “It was definitely speaking to myself, but also to that person that maybe in their daily life didn’t feel like they could be the one that’s free on the dance floor,” she says. “I quite like to tie in nods to old songs of mine. So, with the ‘please’ in the ‘please yourself’ line and in ‘That! Feels Good!’ there’s the lyric ‘pleasure is a right’, because of What’s Your Pleasure?. I like to feel like there’s a train of thought, and there’s a journey.” Production came from dance pop genius Stuart Price. “Stuart had worked with Madonna, and so she was in my mind, too. It’s hard to forget when you’re holding the same mic that Madonna recorded Confessions on a Dance Floor on to not feel like maybe you are hopefully going to be a bit blessed by something.”
Unrestrained dance-floor abandon continued with second single, ‘Pearls’. “Let it go, let me dance / And shake it ’til the pearls get lost / In romance, let’s just dance / And shake it ’til the pearls fall off”, she sings. Given the album cover artwork featuring a topless Ware looking over her shoulder while draped in a long string of pearl necklaces, one could be forgiven for wondering if there was any intended innuendo in the track? The sexually charged tone that undulated through the What’s Your Pleasure?album side-lined gratuitous sexual references for a more seductive sensuality that is rare in pop music today: “It wasn’t explicit, I think it’s all through the innuendo,” affirms Ware of that last record. So, are the pearl necklaces on That! Feels Good! just pearl necklaces, or…? “Abso-fucking-lutely not,” Ware’s eyes widen as she lets out a huge laugh. “But it can be, if somebody wants it to be. I think we realised after, what it could be. And I was like, ‘I’m not mad at that.’ While I like to always look quite classy and sophisticated, it’s also quite fun to have that little nudge, nudge, wink, wink.”
The real story behind ‘Pearls’ came about when production quartet Ware and Price with Coffee Clarence Jr. and Sarah Hudson were looking at a mother-of-pearl guitar. “We were going, ‘Shake it ’til the pearls come off,’” she clarifies, citing inspo from Evelyn Champagne King. “We wanted people to kind of start shaking their shoulders, and then it’s kind of like, ‘OK, we’re limbering up’. A kind of Tina Marie, gorgeous diva moment. But no, I did not do a song about somebody ejaculating on my chest. Absolutely not. It’s about fucking dancing, and being free,” Ware says admonishingly, her eyes channelling her inner mum and giving me a proper telling-off. Sorry, I had to ask.
We then discuss album track ‘Hello Love’, a sumptuous song that ripples with emotion. “I was listening to quite a lot of Donny Hathaway,” she says. “I like the kind of cinematic moment to that song. I also just think the sentiment is so simple. I’m proud of the song-writing, the beauty of it. I love Kokoroko’s brass on it. It’s majestic.” Ware adds how she’d love to see the song released, perhaps as a duet. I suggest that I can instantly hear the smooth tones of Miguel or Steve Lacy alongside Ware’s floating melodies – and here we are actively manifesting this moment to life.
On ‘Beautiful People’ (produced with Kuyimba, Ford and Parker), Ware ups the ante and brings it back to the dance floor: “It’s got this kind of impatient energy. And it’s very much about that experience of being able to open those doors to a club, and the beautiful people are everywhere. That moment of feeling like you’re so part of a community, and that escapism. It’s about taking your life, putting it on hold for a moment, and just fucking dancing and enjoying yourself.” Stuart Price returns on production duties to take us later into the night with the next track, ‘Freak Me Now’: “The closest I’m getting to French house, or something like that. I feel like it’s kind of my Mousse T. ‘Horny’ moment. It’s a no-nonsense club song. It’s cheeky,” she says, before adding with a grin, “I say ‘Ootchy, cootchy,’ in it.”
Ware describes ‘Lightning’, the record’s penultimate track, as a palate cleanser. “It’s a slow jam. I’m entitled to have slow jams,” she says. “I kind of have always danced within this R&B world, and I love it. I like that I can be versatile, and it is a bit of a gear change.” Finally, album closer ‘These Lips’ has Ware teasing a lover – “It’s going to take two hearts, two hours, two more / I’m telling you, these lips can do so much more – as her voice glides over Ford’s effortless production. “It’s kind of yearning, and then it just pulls it back to be like, wink. It’s one that wants to carry on, it feels like the story’s not necessarily finished, like maybe you’ve just left that room, that dance floor, but the party’s still going on, so that’s why there’s this fade-out. I wanted the fade-out to go on for fucking ever.
As we wrap our interview, our conversation moves to the future. “I had the idea that the next record is gonna be a really hard dance record. Or maybe it goes further into my Age of Aquarius moment,” Ware muses. “As long as it’s good, I don’t care. I’m gonna just actually really enjoy exploring and experimenting. I’m not going anywhere. I’m in it for the long haul. That’s a really new attitude for me where it feels incredibly freeing to be able to just be like, ‘I don’t need to worry, because I think I’ll be OK.’”
I couldn't agree less. The full length album version is utterly glorious and really allows the song to breathe even more.The Begin Again radio edit is much better. Cutting out 2 mins keeps the flow going and I'm starting to come round to it now. That album version doesn't half drag on.
Oh! I legit thought you meant “Free Yourself” too. Despite that bafflingly long gap, it was always touted as the first single for the new album so I, and I guess others, still consider it as such.You and I both know this wasn't what I meant. Pearls definitely felt like the first official single off the album as it had new art direction and photoshoots, came with the album pre-order, had promo, wasn't released nearly a year before the album came out etc etc.
But no, I did not do a song about somebody ejaculating on my chest. Absolutely not. It’s about fucking dancing, and being free,” Ware says admonishingly, her eyes channelling her inner mum and giving me a proper telling-off. Sorry, I had to ask.
Oh! I legit thought you meant “Free Yourself” too. Despite that bafflingly long gap, it was always touted as the first single for the new album so I, and I guess others, still consider it as such.
Considering the long gap though, it does give “bridge single added onto the new album for completionist sake” tease.
“I had the idea that the next record is gonna be a really hard dance record. Or maybe it goes further into my Age of Aquarius moment,” Ware muses. “As long as it’s good, I don’t care. I’m gonna just actually really enjoy exploring and experimenting. I’m not going anywhere. I’m in it for the long haul. That’s a really new attitude for me where it feels incredibly freeing to be able to just be like, ‘I don’t need to worry, because I think I’ll be OK.’”
That theatricality kicks off the new album with its title track, in which Ware ran through her phone’s contacts to enlist some seriously A-list talent. Listen closely and you’ll hear Róisín Murphy, Jamie Demetriou, Kylie, Aisling Bea and others teasing ‘That! Feels Good!’ in various intonations, from flighty and flirty to downright dirty.