The Best Albums of 2014, #19

band0119. Jessie Ware, Tough Love (Universal/Island)

One of the biggest surprises of 2012, Jessie Ware’s stunning debut album Devotion was so beautiful in its simplicity. It didn’t try to do much; it created its own distinct mood and sound with the most minimal of arrangements, placing Ware’s seductive voice front and centre, and it became an inspired R&B record that went on to attract a large following in 2013. Being such a big fan I had huge hopes for the follow-up, whose tracks were slowly unveiled over the course of 2014, and the most surprising thing was how willing Ware was to broaden her sound. For the most part, the tactic works brilliantly on Tough Love, with the title track, “You & I (Forever)”, “The Sweetest Song”, and the inspired “Kind Of…Sometimes…Maybe” a few of the most immediate highlights, but two tracks can’t quite maintain that high level: the tacky “Keep on Lying” and the painfully bland “Say You Love Me”, written by the painfully bland Ed Sheeran. But the rest of this album is far too splendid to dismiss because of two slight missteps, and besides, Ware knocks “Say You Love Me” clear out of the park, making it far more palatable than it deserves to be. To her great credit, she takes a very American idea – broadening a pop album’s sound at risk of making it bloated and losing complete control – and adds some welcome British restraint, approaching this material with great class and coming through with a drop dead gorgeous album.