Wednesday, December 6th, 2023

Jessie Ware – Begin Again

This! Is a Review! Of a Jukebox! Favourite!


[Video]
[6.73]

Frank Falisi: I spent all of 2012 writing to Jessie Ware’s Devotion. Music you write to can earn the unpleasant designation as a productive space; nothing inverses the promise of desire like Chill Beats Fall Morning Relaxing Sweet Piano Jazz Music in Bookstore Cafe Ambience to Studying. Nothing is less sexy than work. But Devotion had sex in it, that Sade-Dusty percolation, and if you could make brain space for it while trying to form sentences in a university library, it was because it approached a body from a different, minor vantage point. It was desire theoretical, something you could activate and prove someday somewhere else, if you wanted to. Ware has spent the interim years interrogating that initial chill (Tough Love), removing the remove and sending the pure pop bubbling up (Glasshouse), getting plasticine (What’s Your Pleasure?), and now fucking a funk (That! Feels Good!), sending sending it up all the way up. “Begin Again” is both obvious and surprising in that motion, all forky horns and whip ride cymbal, a further push of the pop past the unremembered disco of other such chanteuses into the kind of deeply uncool exaltation that wouldn’t be out of step soundtracking seventies spy cheese, covered in shag. Or maybe it’s just about and for now, Ware sending her throaty falsetto through faux-insights like “why does all the purest love get filtered through machines? “To be clear, pop music at its best is a faux-insight machine: don’t you prefer a beautiful and inane and useless pop? All the better to un-write to.
[7]

Jeffrey Brister: A lush, deliriously beautiful swirl of drums and strings and horns and keys rolls across the track, with Ware’s voice layered over top, all yearning and need and desire, a gust pushing forcefully through and ever upward. The lyrics beg for something real and beautiful. Am I actually trying to critique the song? No. I love this one too much for that.
[9]

Kat Stevens: It’s been ten years since I had a nice time seeing Jessie in the dance tent at Glastonbury. Jessie and I have diverged paths since then, but I’m happy with the way I went. I’m less happy about the way Jessie went. I might be too old and tired for Glasto, but at least I’m not at the blimmin’ Hootenanny.
[4]

Alfred Soto: No album disappointed me in 2023 more deeply than That! Feels Good! From the misplaced exclamation point to the star’s pneumatic enthusiasm, the songs amounted to a collective willed euphoria. “Begin Again” and its massed vocals embody the problem. Jessie Ware sounds good — she always sounds good. 
[4]

Michael Hong: That! Feels Good! isn’t just a rehash of What’s Your Pleasure? but a progression. It’s a more varied take on that disco sound, with grand proclamations instead of seductive teases. Maybe “Begin Again” is the most tasteful example: her voice sounds fuller, brighter, and plenty more soulful; while the horns and strings add splashes of colour — that descending Samba melody is particularly bewitching. But blame it on Ware’s consistent streak, blame it on the subject matter, “Begin Again” feels more impressive than fun or sexy or really anything other than grand show.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: If there’s no colonialism, sure.
[6]

Leah Isobel: “Begin Again” plays like the cartoon version of What’s Your Pleasure? – it blows up that record’s rich, libidinal ambivalence into unsubtle fun. It’s not bad, but it feels like a downgrade.
[6]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: This is my kind of maximalism. The horn hits speak to my soul. The build is constant, with so much percussion that it just washes over me in the most beautiful way. It also wins my superlative for “most likely to make me dance in my office job” (a lot has happened since the Jukebox’s last undeath y’all).
[10]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Richly appointed, exquisitely wrought, fucking boring.
[3]

Ian Mathers: I’m not going to dock this a point for the fact that I can’t quite place what it’s making me think of, and how sure I am that other blurbs here are going to have me smacking my forehead going “of course!” That one’s on me! I am going to dock a point for how much the repeated “why does all the purest love get filtered through machines?” makes me grit my teeth. There are plenty of times I’ve enjoyed the salty/sweet combo of this kind of sonic ebullience and foreboding lyrics, but here it just doesn’t land for me. Nice horns though.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: I too wish to be reborn as a pulsating satin gown.
[9]

Dorian Sinclair: There’s a streak of the cosmic in the lyrics for “Begin Again,” with imagery that in some instances feels pulled straight from Hair‘s “Age of Aquarius.” But the celestial language is here paired with a succession of musical figures that are all about descent, both vocal and instrumental lines consistently pulling downward (most obvious in the prechorus melody and in the lurching piano walkdown that mirrors it). That tension — the upward pull and the downward stumble — is the engine that powers the entire track, right up until Ware breaks through four minutes in, forsaking words altogether as she spirals up into the stratosphere. It’s a moment of pure exhilaration, and if the track doesn’t seem totally sure of how to wrap itself up afterward, there are worse failings.
[7]

Josh Winters: This is my “Break My Soul.”
[9]

Kayla Beardslee: Extravagance not as guilty overconsumption, but as joyous liberation.
[10]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: A devastatingly beautiful song that gets necessarily ruptured partway through via syncopated piano rhythms. I keep waiting for it to evolve even more, but “Begin Again” just keeps getting bigger, more extravagant, and doing more of the same thing isn’t exactly reinvention.
[5]

Peter Ryan: So much of That! Feels Good! gave me the aural equivalent of “Great gowns, beautiful gowns.” As much as anything on the album, “Begin Again” distills the virtues and constraints of the approach — Ware finding new ways to transmute into sonic opulence, band allowed to cook just a bit, arrangement immaculate, ornate, expensive, careful. The chorus deflates the little bit of momentum gathered in the verses, but the execution is gorgeous enough to avoid the slightly embalmed, tasteful disco-by-numbers quality I find in other parts of the album — self-consciously retrograde, but it’s alive.
[5]

William John: I’ve been a card-carrying Warewolf for over twelve years, but the That! Feels Good! era has presented its challenges, chief among them a need to stomach the idea that on it, the considered joys of Ware’s previous album What’s Your Pleasure? were Mighty Hoopla-fied to the extreme. And while there’s nothing necessarily shameful about such aims, hitherto Ware has traded in either steely sophistication or very subtle vulnerability, and I’m not certain she can entirely shake those comfort zones when, for example, attempting flippant, Countess Luann-like artifice on a song like “Shake The Bottle.” The result is an album comprised of a kind of kitsch that isn’t quite kitsch enough. “Begin Again” is its Brazilian-influenced centrepiece, gliding and unfurling in a mesmerising way; the reverie is not so much broken but punctuated by a piano that sounds like it’s falling down an escalator, by a big note at the climax, and by a disarming line about technology’s effect on romance. While these elements and its length might allow it to be scanned as a “kitchen sink” bit of art, the kind of thing the album demands, the overwhelming feeling that I get is that it’s like “Spotlight” but with the dimmers on, only occasionally flickering to life. I’ll take the latter any day with my caipirinha.
[7]

Tara Hillegeist: Sleek and effortless, like Salsoul used to make it, and just as professionally smooth — but unfortunately, unlike those Salsoul greats of old, the backing singers just aren’t quite there in the mix, and the percussion definitely isn’t… well, percussing near enough. Deeply unfortunate, as the bones of a standout arrangement are here, and nobody else besides Janelle Monae quite seems to have ever shared Jessie Ware’s appreciation for, and interest in pursuing, the steely-throated zenith of disco divinity in a modern context. There are moments on “Begin Again” where she seems to ascend her perch like nothing so much as a perfectly-machined sculpture of song, reaching for that glory — only to find herself alone in the yearning, un-buttressed by the rest of the clockwork mechanism that should be rising with her in turn — and the whole edifice sighs back to earth instead.
[7]

Oliver Maier: This! Sounds whatever!
[4]

Anna Katrina Lockwood: As is often the case with Jessie Ware songs, “Begin Again” is quite good. Is there quite enough song here to justify the full near 5+ minute run time? Possibly not — at certain points, it feels like Ware and her collaborators have swapped out song structure for layers of disco instrumentation creating dynamic range. It’s nice — it works, and it sounds good, but it’s certainly not sublime in the way that, say, “Please” is. I’m absolutely nitpicking here, but this is all to say that the standard is high, and this song is just not quite at the tippy top of Jessie Ware’s catalog. 
[7]

Jackie Powell: After a couple of bars of percussion, “Begin Again” is reminiscent of how “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” begins. While this is technically a show tune that was made for the rock musical Hair, these similarities are most apparent on the 1969 cover by The 5th Dimension. There’s an echo in both songs that layers around a few different voices. Jessie Ware is one artist, but “Begin Again” creates an illusion that a whole band is actually behind her in this. Her co-writers join in the fun and provide backing vocals that give the track an extra edge. Ware’s delivery reminds me of an Earth, Wind and Fire song and in particular the tracks where the late Maurice White would alternate lead vocals with the under appreciated Phil Bailey. The brass in “Begin Again” is bold but not too distracting and ostentatious. When the horns are at their most noticeable during and following the second chorus, they help guide the listener through what would have been a song too much like a track off Future Nostalgia; I wish Dua Lipa used more horns alongside her heavy reliance on string sections. Ware finds a way here.
[7]

Brad Shoup: That piano line is tuff, man. This about as close to that Casablanca disco glamour as you could hope for: aching and endlessly ascending. The line about machines snapped the spell–it felt like something Win Butler or St. Vincent discarded — but I talked myself into it. If smartphones or the threat of house music had existed in 1979, August Darnell probably would have written a (very good) song complaining about them.
[8]

Reader average: [7] (3 votes)

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5 Responses to “Jessie Ware – Begin Again”

  1. Warewolf

  2. I couldn’t bring myself to write about this because I’m in this ambivalent space where That! Feels Good! is very good but somehow also feels very disappointing? In theory, I love the idea of Jessie continuing down the disco path but this time adding live horn sections and more camp but the joy here feels more forced and less interesting than most of What’s Your Pleasure?

  3. The winks to camera on Shake the Bottle and Pearls are fun but I’d rather have more of Spotlight, Save a Kiss, Please, Hot N Heavy, etc.

  4. That! Feels Meh!

  5. Samba! That’s what the fuck it is!

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