Cruelly and ironically, 2020 marked a grand return of disco: legends, Kylie and Róisín, and newcomers, Dua and Jessie, all donned their diva regalia in a best effort to get us on the dance floor. Only Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? really makes much sense in a year marred with introspection and solitude — her sensual, internalized dance music turned out to be the perfect accompaniment for dancing on one’s own. This, the artist’s fourth album, is a pristine homage, perfectly weaving through the sounds of the late ‘70s as they bled into the ‘80s. As with all great dance music, atmosphere is everything, and in What’s Your Pleasure?, Jessie carefully crafts a consistent tenor of intimacy, sensuality, and sophistication: the lush strings, vibrant synth, and boisterous brass all assist Jessie’s evocative, romantic performance. In a lot of ways, this is a conservative record. The lyrics are full of yearning, but in a chaste, monogamous way, perfectly exemplified in “Soul Control,” which uses clever homonyms to express ultimate devotion, all set against a dangerously upbeat funk. But perhaps this only feels conservative because it’s so in control, passing from one jaw-droppingly beautiful song to the next, sequenced with a masterpiece opening both sides of the record, and in the final position. Opening with a soft, orchestral lament before slipping in the slickest groove, “Spotlight” starts perfectly and then continues to one-up itself throughout. As the album centerpiece, “In Your Eyes” is a rare downbeat moment, reminiscent of Sade and sustained by Jessie’s dreamy vocals, bubbling bass, and high, trembling strings. “Remember Where You Are” is a giant, joyous finale, boasting a last-second surprise that offers the record’s most touching moments: a choir bequeathing warm and welcome benedictions. What’s Your Pleasure? can be danced all the way through and, perhaps most importantly, bears forth the promise of many more dancy nights to come, hopefully including the return of live shows with Jessie Ware and her band.
Published as part of Top 25 Albums of 2020 — 25-11.