2020 has absolutely been a good year for music! I’ve listened to and ranked 120 albums so far, and Jessie Ware is still my top of both lists the albums and the songs one. Her iconic photograph on the cover takes us to the glam period of Studio 54. The way she stares at the cam, almost like posing for a Warhol’s polaroid or an Antonio Lopez’s illustration, gives you clues about her music. The enigmatic power of her direct look is stunning! The red lipstick, the big hair, and the golden collar complete the representative portrait. It also gives you a whole picture of the sound and personality you can find in What’s Your Pleasure?. This title evokes hedonism, ecstasy, and joy.
The elegance and minimalist electronic beats of “Spotlight” make this song my fave of the album. What an opening track! Her voice and the second voices are on point. It reminds me of the Madonna of The First Album, with a natural sparkle and shinning on the dancefloor.
Let’s go through the album. Play the record for me! What’s your pleasure? is a gay anthem, sort of Kylie Minogue rendition to the disco. Ohh La La is the definition of what a pop song is, easy and catchy. Like my friend Fran Plasencia, the conceptual photographer, says “pop music has its own language, and this code is simple and direct”. Soul Control keeps on with the synthesizer’s fantasy, the second voices in the album are a constant, let’s get to the chorus like Roxette’s maxim. Save a Kiss is also influenced by Madonna’s Confessions on a dancefloor and Kylie’s Fever, however, there is the clearest impact in this song and that’s the Swedish Robyn, this song could match Body Talk. Those beats and the orchestral hints! Wow! Adore you takes us to a more alternative and atmospheric song, like Halsey or Georgia. Jessie sounds so sensual! In your eyes keeps the sensuality higher, boiling like Janet Jackson’s music. We can’t deny Jessie’s good taste. Step into my life sounds like Motown and disco, a bit like Michael Jackson singing with his brothers. Read my lips sounds also quite like Jackson, both campy and tacky in the best sense, like Gina G! Mirage (Don’t stop) gets good in the phrasing and the ambient sound, quite Kylie (again), and that ending is Off the wall! Don’t stop till you get enough!The Kill tenses and slows down the pace, the voice brings the beauty and the retro vibes. Remember where you are is openly retro, she becomes the musical diva. Taking the masks off, all the secrets are revealed in this song! Her intentions are not hidden anymore. A clever statement to end the album.
Jessie reminds me of all the big ones that I love.
Thanks for sharing this music in 2020! We needed this and you know it!
I don’t want to think about the numbers — statistics, projections, graphs, charts, models. It’s easy for my mind to get lost in a numerical rabbit hole in a ceaseless seeking of the latest data. I go through spurts of refreshing news pages, watching livestreams from government officials, waiting for the daily updates of numbers on my state’s dashboard. It’s as if my mind finds it difficult to determine the difference between being well-informed and allowing myself to become a sponge for all of the information I can find. Sometimes I have more than I can hold, more than I can sit with, more than I can fathom.
I try to look away, but then I’m caught in the whirling vortex of social media, where I’m bombarded by conspiracy theories, the thoughts and opinions of acquaintances I would have been much happier not reading, and videos from woefully out-of-touch celebrities.
Social media often makes me feel even more isolated, less connected. I deactivate my accounts, delete the apps, and go dark for a while. I seek a more potent distraction from the world outside. Maybe I pick up the pen. Maybe it’s my headphones or the remote. Maybe it’s a book. Maybe I dive back into The Sims 4. However I choose to do it, investing my time and energy in a world or experience outside of my own can act as a mental reset. It feels good to get lost inside a narrative I’m in control of rather than numbers and reactions I’m powerless over. I’m reminded of these lines from “Movies” by Weyes Blood, a song from Titanic Rising about the power of stories and escapism:
I know the meaning
I know the story
I know the glory
I love movies.
When I come back down to reality, it’s important to remember that while I may feel powerless, there are parts of my personal narrative that I can control. We all have stories to share — what will they be?
Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert
Then I fumbled in my closet for my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day…
I looked over at my mother from the front passenger seat of our Volvo station wagon and noticed the corners of her mouth as they flicked upward in a smile. I giggled.
“Cleanest dirty shirt…?!” I repeated, marveling at Kris Kristofferson’s nonsensical lyric. I was nine or ten years old and still too innocent to have latched onto the line about beer for breakfast. Mom and I were out running errands in our still new-ish family car, which she and my father had bought after our ancient blue Ford Country Squire had finally quit running. The new car had come equipped with air conditioning and a cassette deck, both of which felt luxurious at the time.
When my parents were both in the car, they listened to Victory At Sea or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Dvorak’s New World Symphony. Sometimes they would listen to Peter, Paul, and Mary or Roger Whitaker, but Johnny Cash was always reserved for when my mother had the car to herself. Years later, she confided that my father hated country music, snobbishly associating it with “white trash” and “redneck” types. Despite the thinly-veiled insult — my mother’s ancestral line includes many Florida farmers and cattle ranchers — she never abandoned her love affair with the genre. And the singer I remember her loving the most was always Johnny Cash.
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Cash, too. I have my own memories associated with The Man In Black, but the most vivid one is the melancholy smile that spread across my mother’s face any time she heard “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”
On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
’Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleeping city sidewalks
Sunday morning coming down
My mother passed down to me the twin tendencies to love without reservation and to grieve in silence, too. And this song remains one of the ways I hold space for our powerful love and sorrow without ever having to say a word.
About the author: Steve Merino is a Zamboni driver, a meat raffle host, an essayist, and poet living in Saint Paul, MN. He holds an MFA from Hamline University and edits poetry for Red Bird Chapbooks. His work has appeared in Oyster River Pages and Shark Reef.
About the author: Ethan Milner is a writer and a Clinical Social Worker in Oregon, practicing psychotherapy at a school for youth with special needs. His work has most recently appeared in Cotton Xenomorph, The Scores, and Five: 2: One. His poetry has also recently appeared in the anthologies “No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant & First-Generation American Poetry to Benefit RAICES-TEXAS,” and “Spectral Lines: Poems About Scientists.” He can be found on Twitter @confident_memes and at ethanwritten.com.
About the author: ShelleySweeney is a hobby writer living in Atlanta, Georgia. She hosts a mother-daughter blog with her two, grown daughters, Savanna and Diana (www.triangleparkatl.com). Her motto is: Pray More, Worry Less.
About the author: Jenn McManus-Goode is a writer, public relations professional, slow fat athlete, mix-tape junkie, and all-around feminist killjoy. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and children.