She had me in February with “Running,” biting her lip until the point at which she’s ready to lose it all. Leaked tracks “110%” and “Wildest Moments” further deepened Jessie Ware’s commitment to a certain kind of British performer-based soul in which the vocalist’s restraint found its match in arrangements, their antithesis in the lurid melodramas depicted in the lyrics. Listening to the ominous cello and Ware’s cloudbusting vocal in “Night Light,” I thought of the long-lost Shara Nelson, whose pipes lent early Massive Attack their ravaged grace; try to imagine Ware owning “Unfinished Sympathy” (or Nelson singing “110%” in 1991).
But unfinished sympathy is Ware’s game too. When she sings “two wrongs no rights” in “Wildest Moments,” swathed in more echo than the cliffs of Dover she yields enough to tempt the listener but withholds something crucial. You can hear it in the music. There’s some terrific guitar work on this record but not soon after detonating a series of quicksilver runs at the chorus melody line Dave Okumu stops. Elision is Ware’s strategy. The line “Wish that beautiful boy was me” rises to the surface in “Taking in Water” without followup. As far as other comparisons, the Sade ones are defensible if they stop at “Love is Stronger Than Pride” and “No Ordinary Love,” and the comparisons don’t account for the rap in “No to Love.” Or the mysterious falsetto male vocal singing the hook at one point — a totally early nineties Seal vibe. But Ware hurts like Seal never did, loves electronic effects like that Trevor Horn-courting singer-songwriter didn’t; they deepen, as in “Still Love Me,” a choral-in-the-Greek-sense relationship between subject and object, electronically treated male vocals calling and responding to Ware’s commands. Of course there’s a danger Ware’s triumph will curdle into schtick. Let’s not let her forget her wildest moments.