Album Review: That! Feels Good! By Jessie Ware
At the heart of a night out, there is a feeling of risk and reward. You hear the four-on-the-floor disco beat, the twang of the guitar, the strings, the horns. You ease into moving, ignore the shyness, anxiousness, awkwardness and discover: “Oh…That! Feels Good!” Jessie Ware’s fifth album That! Feels Good! is all about that sensation: the headrush joy of a night out. Picking up right where 2020’s What’s Your Pleasure? left off, Ware doubles down on lush disco straight from Saturday Night Fever.
But if What’s Your Pleasure? ends with a question mark, That! Feels Good! is all exclamation points. If What’s Your Pleasure? is a glass of red wine and a cigarette; That! Feels Good! is a shot of tequila and a line of… something stronger. After several records of melodrama and balladry, Jessie Ware takes utter delight in playing the dancefloor diva. And what makes her such a captivating presence is her own surprise at how well she thrives in this role.
In a recent interview with Vulture, she gets to the essence of it, when she jokes about an exchange with her husband, Sam Burrows: “My husband’s constantly like, ‘Babe, they must think we are wild in bed.’ I’m like, ‘Let them think!’” The abandon of her “Let them think” philosophy colours That! Feels Good! in an elated, glorious, and beautiful camp. Shake the Bottle rattles through Ware’s hit list with a sexy smirk: “Matthew was a classic just like his pick-up truck/He still lived with his mother, but he sure could… oh!”.
On Beautiful People, she buys a “purple leather jacket” because she wants it. In Pearls she “shakes it till the pearls fall off.” In 2023, Ware knows the answer to her own question of What’s Your Pleasure? Now, it’s about doing the damn thing. To hear her be larger than life is to experience that liberated persona in yourself It takes a steady hand to be as over-the-top as That! Feels Good! and still retains an air of class, something Ware manages to do almost impossibly.
She saves the full poignancy of her vocals for just the right moment, like the careening melody of Pearls or the album’s first single, Free Yourself. But she can keep things equally restrained. The title track purrs in a husky lower register. Her voice on Lightning is so full of air that it feels like it floats above the marbly synth beat. Even at her most raucous, Ware keeps things tantalizing with the smoke of her voice: it’s the equivalent of dressing up in fine silks and fancy outfits to get trashed under the disco ball. That! Feels Good! is not all sugar rush.
The nostalgia of Hello Love and existentialism of Begin Again give the album’s centre a bit of heft. Ware is still in primadonna mode but not without substance. But these expressive moments don’t read like crying-on-the-dancefloor anthems. They bring you a purpose to the dance floor rather than making you weep while you’re there. Free Yourself brings up an essential point in Jessie Ware’s transformation into vibrant dance queen: “If it feels so good, then don’t you stop.” That! Feels Good! follows on the heels of What’s Your Pleasure? because it felt good. In Ware’s world of self-liberation, bliss, and confidence, is there any better reason?
Boluwatife Adesina is a media writer and the helmer of the Downtown Review page. He’s probably in a cinema near you.