Jessie Ware has made a career of chronicling emotions and life events that don’t necessarily lend themselves to lyrical drama. Most are about the day-to-day ebb and flow of a real, non-melodramatic romance—not exactly the makings of pop thrillers. Yet they’re brought to the intensity level of a passion play through her high-quality songwriting and the earnestness of her voice. Glasshouse, Ware’s third LP, could be boring in the wrong hands, its songs mostly about the joy and anxiety of her new marriage and the birth of her daughter. Fortunately, it’s breathtaking.
The key to the record’s success lies in Ware’s ability to bring us into the moments she’s experiencing through enunciation. Something as simple as heading to visit her partner after being away a while, perhaps while on tour, skyrockets to euphoric heights on “Stay Awake, Wait For Me,” powered by Ware’s hushed can-you-keep-a-secret verses, a simple “Love Is Strange”-esque guitar lead and minor-key piano before kicking into a horn-driven exaltation of a chorus.
Lead single “Midnight” and its R&B-stomp rhythms are wondering nothing more sophisticated than, “We were right to get married, right? We better not fuck this up.” Yet it’s one of this year’s best songs in any genre. It’s not impossible to make great music out of fairly ordinary life anxieties (see “Springsteen, Bruce; entire career of”), but it’s no easy task to make them compelling, despite them being of gravest importance to us when they’re our anxieties. Ware makes them compelling. “Alone” is basically about, well, married people needing to fuck too, and it’s as seductive as peak Sade.
Ware doesn’t shy away from the uglier emotions that surface among otherwise stable couples. “First Time” involves a moment everyone knows—a point when a relationship has reached momentary stagnation that can be overcome, but seems temporarily insurmountable—and turns it into a wonderful quiet-storm torch song. On “Selfish Love,” she chides herself for expecting near-perfection from a partner but allowing imperfection in her own mind, and also blames both parties for the little acts of manipulation that each person commits, as we all have in our own romances. We all know how these things feel, but generally aren’t talented enough to turn them into resonant pop music as Jessie Ware can.
And then there’s “Hearts.” Perhaps this is her nightmare scenario of the marriage’s collapse, or maybe it’s about a love that failed before she found her partner. Either way, it’s profoundly devastating and serves as the emotional climax to Glasshouse despite not being directly tied to the record’s overall theme of how even good romances require hard-ass work every day. On this song, supported by muted drums and soft strum (aside from the thundering chorus), she summons what feels like the pain of every squandered love in this world to insist, “Hearts aren’t supposed to hurt like that/They’re not supposed to break so fast.” Even rougher: “If I could ask a smoking gun, how it feels to hurt someone/I would just ask you,” she sings on the bridge. Damn.
The rest of Glasshouse is largely comedown, both in lyrical content and musical direction, but that doesn’t make for a boring conclusion. From the classic organ-driven R&B of “Slow Me Down” to the laid-bare acoustic coda that is “Sam” (named for her husband, Sam Burrows), the record finds peace and satisfaction in Ware assuring herself that for all her doubts, she has what it takes to handle all her shit—she won’t be some codependent mess or any other kind of wreck. The journey that Jessie Ware brings us on with Glasshouse is full of emotions that we all know—and not necessarily the most fraught, dramatic ones that immediately attract people’s attention. But the ability she has to channel them into affecting art is all her own, and with it she’s made one of the best albums of the year.