BBP!’s Album of The Week: “What’s Your Pleasure?,” Jessie Ware (2020)

When I am not writing about video games on BBP!, I am working at a super cool Toronto record store. I am constantly listening to new music and always looking for who I think is going to be the next big thing. I’m not going to claim to be the internet’s busiest music nerd, because that title belongs to a certain Anthony Fantano. However, I am a pretty busy music nerd. I am obsessed with taking in new artists and new sounds. Working at a record store is awesome because I always get to talk about these artists I’ve been listening to or a new song I recently heard. I get to spend a good portion of my work day talking about music to people who are like-minded. It is awesome. I would say that it is awesome 90% of the time. 10% of the time I have to hear the always depressing “music hasn’t been good since *insert year here*” rhetoric that some people still subscribe to. I feel that it is my personal mission to prove these people wrong.

“Do you like pop music?” I ask them.

“No,” they almost always reply. “I’m tired of that Top 40 shit I hear on the radio.”

I can relate to that. I’m tired of the Top 40 stuff too. It’s always the same artists. The quality of the music rarely seems to matter. But what if I were to tell you that there is music past the Top 40? Music that doesn’t get played on the radio. People seem to forget about this or just choose not to seek it out because they don’t like what they’ve heard on the surface level. That’s a major shame. I always feel bad for these people because I personally feel they are missing out on some life-changingly good music that is being released at a super rapid rate. Especially in the year 2022. In my opinion, music is better now than it ever has been. The things you can pull off nowadays with production is beyond anything people thought was possible even 10 years ago. Because of this, pop music has evolved into an entirely new beast. Speaking generally, pop is my favourite genre.

I believe I am one of the youngest writers here on BBP! so I found it crucial to pick a record that is recent. I wanted to pick a record that I can see myself listening to 20 years from now. Picking a pop record that stood above all the others was probably the most frustrating thing I’ve had to do for Biff Bam Pop!.

So what do I recommend to these people at my work when they ask to hear something new and interesting? I often have dozens of albums floating through my head, but many of them are a little hard to approach. Personal favourites of mine include Bjork’s heart wrenching glimpse into her divorce on Vulnicura or Xiu Xiu’s attack on dance-pop Forget or the deeply dazzling and enchanting The Turning Wheel by the mystical Spellling. However, there is one album that is so endlessly enjoyable and acts as a love letter to music’s past. The album I am always recommending to these people. Jessie Ware’s magnum opus. The sexy and deliciously produced What’s Your Pleasure?

Okay, now that I have got my pitch out of the way, let’s get onto the meat of this article, THE MUSIC. Simply put, this is dance-pop perfection. The album starts out with “Spotlight.” The first thing you hear is a swelling of strings. It sounds like you’re being woken up from the most amazing sleep. Once Jessie’s voice comes in, that’s it. You realize that you have ignored this artist all your life and you question how you live with yourself. Then the beat switches into this synth dance groove and you really start to question all of your previous musical decisions. Contemplating those decisions becomes harder to do as you begin dancing around your apartment and lip-sync along to the lyrics in each reflective surface. Jessie Ware begins this album with a triumphant bang and shows that she isn’t fucking around. The strings on this track add a layer of immediacy and drama. The groove makes it feel like the world is about to fucking explode. This is apt, as the song is about wanting to spend time with someone who has left quite an impact on the protagonist. It reminds me of Bjork’s “Bachelorette,” a song that carries a very similar weight to it. Love and loneliness feel massive to us as human beings, so it only makes sense that songs about these feelings should be as grand as the emotions are. “Spotlight” is a perfect opener and it gives you an idea as to how intricately produced the rest of this masterpiece is.

The next four tracks drive home the point that this is a sexy record. This is a modern day baby making album. This four track run starts with the title track. “What’s Your Pleasure?” starts with this throbbing synth bass line. It helps chug the track along through its entire 5 minute length. Jessie’s delivery on the chorus almost feels like a personal invitation. The production makes it sound like she is right next to you and it is enthralling. “Ooh La La” is probably the album’s most cut and dry pop song. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s flashy pulses and flashes of ringing synth leads keep it interesting and engaging. The repetitive lyrics make the chorus feel anthemic. It’s actually one of my most played songs on the album because it is so easily enjoyable. “Soul Control” a classic disco rager. This is a song that Donna Summer wishes she wrote. It starts out with a super fun cling-clang type beat. Jessie delivers each word in the bridge with a very staccato approach. Turning multiple syllabled words into monosyllabic phrases. It’s a very cool way to approach a song with simple word structure that makes it feel interesting and dynamic. This record is all about the production and Jessie’s delivery. This four track run ends with “Save a Kiss” which is my personal favourite on the album.

Save a kiss for me tonight
Wait for me, no compromise
Promise you, it won’t be long
Just save a little bit of your lovin’, baby
Say you want no lips but mine
Save the thought of me tonight
Promise you, it won’t be long
Just save a little bit of your lovin’, baby
Save a little bit of your love

Since I first heard this song back in 2020, I have no been able to get this chorus out of my head. I am always singing it to myself at work or at home. This has become my shower anthem. It’s another part of this album that feels so massive and bigger than it even needed to be. The rising string passages below the chorus sound like something that’d play during a very triumphant cutscene in a Final Fantasy game. It’s just so gargantuan. The backing vocals help push the track’s size forward. This is the part of the album that cemented this as an all-time classic for me.

“Adore You” is the first track after the four bangers in a row we just experienced. It’s a bit of a cooldown song. It used to be a little too lowkey for me. But it’s grown on me in a pretty massive way. I really love the dreamy echoey vocals and the darkwave-esque instrumental. The song really blows up toward the two-minute mark when the beat changes into this sick atmospheric techno/house inspired breakdown. It sounds like it’d be something you’d hear in a cave. But only if that cave were in some techno universe where everyone who lived there was a robot. Things stay lowkey and go in a more R&B direction with “In Your Eyes.” This sexy song has one of my favourite basslines on the album. I feel that this track really showcases Jessie’s writing.

‘Cause I can hardly breathe
I’m feeling like I wanna be free
From feeling this pleasure and the pain
But it never goes away
‘Cause it’s harder to see
When you’re giving me every look I need
I live again
Don’t wanna be saved
But what I’m trying to say is tha

It feels like
We’ve been dancing to this song all of our lives
And when you’re here, I leave the world behind
But I’m not trying to fight it
I’ll just keep on dancing in your eyes
In your eyes

We are immediately back on the Jessie Ware pop perfection train for the rest of the album. We get back into the swing of things with one of the most danceable songs, “Step Into My Life.” The guitar on this track is a major highlight of the record. It instantly gets your toes tapping and head bopping. I actually had to take a five-minute dance break while writing this because I find it hard to hear this without giving it my total attention. Okay, maybe “Step Into My Life” is my favourite track. It’s constantly changing. I have written so much on this article, and I don’t really want to spoil the last leg of the record. I really think this thing ends flawlessly. The last four tracks consist of a dance banger in “Read My Lips,” the disco-inspired rager “Mirage (Don’t Stop),” a fucking entrancing BALLAD in “The Kill,” and maybe the greatest closer to a pop record I’ve ever heard, “Remember Where You Are.” That’s right, this thing sticks the landing. The last track is especially powerful. The group vocals on the chorus tickle a spot in my brain that loves to be tickled. The strings make another appearance as they have all over this record and steal the show once again. The colossal sound of this track makes it a perfect closer to an already perfect record.

Every day you get up and look out of the window
Take a breath of morning air
And listen to the people out there
As the birds are singing a duet with the morning traffic
What’s the one you’re hearing?
What’s the one you’re hearing?

The heart of the city is on fire (the heart of the city is on fire)
Sun on the rise, the highs are gonna fall (the highs are gonna fall)
But nothing is different in my arms (in my arms, in my arms, in my arms)
So, darling, remember (‘member)
Remember (‘member)
Where you are

What’s Your Pleasure? makes me want to do a lot of things. It makes me want to dance, it makes me want to sing, it makes me want to find happiness, and it makes me want to shout its praises from the rooftops. Jessie Ware didn’t just make her best album, she made one of the greatest albums of all time. I truly believe that.

Maybe the next time someone asks you “what’s your pleasure?” you can reply with a Spotify link to this album.

Wade Stokan is a geek living in a nerd’s body. If he isn’t listening to music or podcasts, he’s juggling or playing video games. Wade is an avid karaoke junkie and is addicted to sugary cereals. Wade writes video game reviews for his Biff Bam Pop! column, “Wade’s World.”

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