Although it isn't attempting to throw any stones, Jessie Ware manages to create her own emotional landscape with her third album, Glasshouse.
In truth, the level of adoration reserved for Jessie Ware in the music press in general can seem a little excessive, considering many of her highest peaks have taken great inspiration from the likes of Sade, and as such are an amalgam of many, admittedly high-grade, influences. They say you should never review with an agenda, but it's worth confessing that on embarking on this write-up, there was a wish not to add to the reams of pre-existing hagiography on an artist who has always seemed to be spared from the critical knives and bullets reserved for the likes of, say, Tove Lo.
Ware's third album, Glasshouse, is an album that needs to be heard in one continuous play, and needs to be listened-to in the depths of night, preferably with a glass of something smokey in one hand, and no distractions from the blue light of second or third screens. It's with that focus that the album begins to appeal to shared sentiments, and to hit home as more than easy-listening wallpaper. Glasshouse chips away at the listener's hard outer shell almost imperceptibly for most of its run, but there are two moments that seem almost to wrench the heart out of the chest, especially on first play.
The first of those moments comes at 1:12 in Midnight, the opening track. The track begins dreamy and seemingly slightly unfocused, before the chorus pulls the listener out of a stupor and into an insistent 4:4 beat, with an increasing intensity on the line "don't let me fall through". This lyric is delivered with plaintive honesty, but it's also arranged, with the choir in escalating force, in a gospel chord progression, something entirely unexpected the first time you hear the song, and no less thrilling subsequently.
Jessie Ware albums are about precision tooling and such technical excellence that, in parts of the previous releases, and this one, it can get a little dreary at times. Of course Midnight will have a different effect on everyone who hears it, but for this listener, the effect was to be transported back to beside Colin Anderson's piano, rehearsing with Birmingham's Town Hall Gospel Choir. Perhaps a reason for Ware's success is that everyone can print their own personal memories on the smooth canvas of her songs.
The second arrives in the true standout track on the album, Last of the True Believers. The verse, probably unintentionally, modifies the melody of Emeli Sande's ubiquitous Next to Me, and that's a bit of a distraction, but even more so was the keening wail of the backing vocalist. It came as an enormous shock to hear the voice of the former Blue Nile vocalist Paul Buchanan, mostly because after the mixed reception afforded his highly personal 2012 solo album Mid Air, the reclusive troubadour had been far away from anything resembling the music scene.
There are few voices that can bring a Proustian rush in old romantics like Buchanan can; he is one of the great articulators of the conflicts of the heart. To hear him echoing Ware's vocal in the chorus, before fading out again, a ghost, whispering in a dream, is to experience once again how Glasshouse hits home on a deeply personal level at times. The addition of the Glaswegian was likely a result of Ware's love for The Blue Nile, but may have also been an attempt to draw parallels between the complex cityscape evoked while playing A Walk Across the Rooftops or Hats, and the ambiance constructed by Glasshouse.
If Glasshouse is analogous with any Blue Nile album, though, it's the ode to domestic bliss that was Peace at Last. Similarly to her heroes, Ware began with music evoking the youthful innocence of first love. We heard in that in her breakthrough single, Wildest Moments, which had one of the great admissions of weakness on record, "from the outside, everyone must be wondering why we try." The follow-up Tough Love chipped away at the rough edges of that sound, not messing with the formula that had brought Ware so many fans, but since that release, Ware has married and given birth to a daughter, and the changes in her life are clear from many of the lyrics.
Sam, the acoustic final track, directly addresses her husband, "from seventeen, the only love I've known," and child, and, in the line "I hope I'm as brave as my mother," echoes the aforementioned double-edged hope-and-fear line from Wildest Moments. It is this track that, although it does not feature any Blue Nile alumni, is the most Nile-esque in atmosphere, thanks to the busy urban setting of Ware's musings on family life (in this case, a railway station cafe), as well as the closing hum of a jazz trumpet, inviting the listener to close this book, and start his or her own story.
That is the greatest praise it is possible to give Glasshouse: at no stage does it hit anyone over the head with how they are supposed to feel, or make the clunky mistakes other artists have made on multiple occasions in the past when trying to write a song about being together with a true love. Ware, rather, doesn't seem to be trying to write anything, here. That trumpet, playing in a deserted bar at closing time, feels like the end of something precious. It's the feeling of finishing a novel that has said all it can, but which you wish wouldn't end.
Whereas a companion-volume third album, Adele's 25, can come across in places as an album that chooses to gloss over happiness in favour of manufactured anguish, Ware makes no attempt to hide her joy, or her ever-present fear over the future. It's naturalistic songwriting, from someone who makes the painting of an emotional landscape on record sound far easier than it is. Jessie Ware doesn't throw any stones in her Glasshouse, because things are perfect how they are.