That! Feels Good!
When Jessie Ware wrote “Remember Where You Are”—the final song on her career-altering 2020 record What’s Your Pleasure?—she knew she’d unlocked the sound of her future. “I think I finally understood my place in music,” she tells Apple Music. “I felt like I was combining all my loves, from musical theater to soul, groove, dance, and funk to R&B and orchestral moments and group vocals. I wanted to do ‘Remember Where You Are,’ but with a big old dance beat.” That’s more or less what you can expect from That! Feels Good!, on which the London singer-songwriter doubles down on her devotion to the dance floor and—after the varnished opulence of What’s Your Pleasure?—embraces a looser, louder, more live sound. It’s (almost) all up, with brass and string arrangements, choruses of voices, very winking lyrics, and, perhaps most surprisingly, rapping à la Blondie or Tom Tom Club. “My voice was always the thing, which is fabulous,” says Ware (who, of course, also belts out plenty of elastic vocals here). “But for me it was like, ‘Let’s see what else I’ve got.’” Made with …Pleasure collaborators James Ford, Clarence Coffee Jr., Shungudzo, and Danny Parker, plus UK producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie Minogue, The Killers, Pet Shop Boys), That! Feels Good! was powered by the roaring success of its predecessor. Released during the pandemic, the disco-fueled What’s Your Pleasure? became an antidote for many during lockdown, and earned Ware a British Album of the Year BRIT Award nomination, a support slot on tour with Harry Styles, and an army of new fans. All of which gave her the confidence to just keep having fun. “I felt like I’d been granted permission to let loose and show all sides of myself,” says Ware. “I wanted it to feel free, and I think that was indicative of how I was feeling. This record was about celebration and joy. I wanted it to feel like the sexiest slap around the face.” Read on as Ware walks us through That! Feels Good!, one song at a time. “That! Feels Good!” “I needed it to feel like you landed straight into a groove, which is very different to how I started What’s Your Pleasure?. It felt like I was imagining me as D’Angelo or James Brown. With the spoken thing at the start of this track, I’d said to [producer] James Ford, ‘Let’s really enjoy this intro: What do you think about [including] loads of different people so it felt like we're in an orgy?’ It was about making people feel slightly uncomfortable, particularly British people, and to make you go, ‘Hang on, what is she about to do?’ Those voices are Róisín Murphy, Kylie Minogue, Aisling Bea, Jamie Demetriou, Gemma Arterton, benny blanco, my mum [Lennie Ware; Jessie’s co-host on their podcast Table Manners), my [podcast] producer Alice and her husband, who speak French, because they sounded really good, an ex-boyfriend who’s Spanish, and Clara Amfo. We got them all!” “Free Yourself” “We nearly didn’t write this song. It was the first day I’d worked with Stuart [Price], and he’d played this house song but I felt it was a bit too close to What’s Your Pleasure?. Respect to Stuart, because he never gives up and said, ‘Can we just listen to that instrumental again?’ We put the vocal down just to see what happened and then Coffee [London-based songwriter and producer Clarence Coffee Jr.] sang, ‘Free yourself’—and it was really fun. Me and Coffee went and celebrated after—we had tequila and toasted the song because it felt like it was going to change things.” “Pearls” “It felt very camp and soulful, immediate, bombastic, glorious, and fun. It’s saying, ‘Here are some of the ladies I’m going to be on this record.’ The lyric ‘And I do what I wanna/A perfect prima donna’ is said with a wink because I know that I can play up to the role of being a pop star when I need to, but I never take myself too seriously. And when I say prima donna, it’s very much playing with the notion of women being thought of a certain way when they have an opinion, but also acknowledging that I am quite perfect at being a bit of a diva. Hopefully I don’t do it for too long!” “Hello Love” “I needed there to be a breather because I didn’t want people to feel exhausted by those first three songs, which are supposed to hit hard and feel like a bang. I hope this song lives on forever, because it feels quintessentially me, but with me having grown with experience in writing. It’s me tapping into romance and Donny Hathaway and soul music and groove like The Gap Band. I’m a sucker for a love song, but I wanted to do one that didn’t feel like a ballad per se. I also kind of wanted this to feel like the opportunity for a new first-dance song [at weddings], because I feel like everyone’s been using ‘Champagne Kisses’ and ‘Say You Love Me,’ but they’re both really sad songs, so they should just give up on those and do this one.” “Begin Again” “‘Begin Again’ is the pathway from What’s Your Pleasure? into That! Feels Good!. It’s where this album started—and was written over Zoom between LA and Hackney. The lyric ‘Why does all the purest love get filtered through machines?’ probably came from that—I’m sick to death of Zooms! But if you think further into it, it’s about being a prisoner to screens and it becoming so habitual and wanting to escape that, but not being able to. It was very much inspired by Stevie Wonder’s ‘Another Star’ and Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, and bossa nova, Brazilian disco, and longing for travel.” “Beautiful People” “I wanted this song to feel like it went from a monologue into a conversation. That there was a bit of a narrative, however fantasy-led that was. You go from talking yourself out of a crap day to going to a club and feeling free and happy. I think that’s what dance music, particularly going clubbing, can be, and I love that feeling—there’s nothing greater. But as a mother of three, who also works insanely hard, clubbing isn’t on the agenda every week. This was my way of transporting myself to that place.” “Freak Me Now” “Stuart made this instrumental and he was adamant that we were going to use it. This song has kind of French house nods and I was thinking about how Róisín Murphy would say something, as well as Mousse T.’s ‘Horny’ and Gwen McCrae’s ‘Keep the Fire Burning.’ It’s another commanding song like ‘Free Yourself’ and I’m in the driver’s seat—it’s not requesting, it’s like this person’s going to have to do it. That was a really fun position to be in.” “Shake the Bottle” “This is almost my cabaret song. It’s highly camp and it’s me as a ‘madame’ and is just really fun. It was like, ‘How far can we push this innuendo?’ It feels more like a performance piece. I really hope all my queens that lip-sync like this, because I think I made it for lip-syncers. I’m in awe of the performance and I so respect drag and the creativity and the confidence. I feel so loved and cherished by a beautiful community and they’re always in my mind, particularly because we have so much fun together. I feel very lucky to have an incredibly strong following from the LGBTQ community. They’ve made me a better performer.” “Lightning” “I was definitely leaning into a more R&B moment: This pulled from Sade, Madlib, Drake. There needed to be a bit of space on the record to just take a moment, but I also wanted to feel like it could connect with the rest of the album. This is my husband’s favorite tune: it’s sex, it’s languid, it’s a bit of a breather. Maybe it’s also the end of the night when the party is starting to die out and it’s just you and somebody else. It has a vulnerability.” “These Lips” “I wanted it to feel like there was Earth, Wind & Fire on this, or Minnie Riperton. It felt right to finish with this spoken-word thing at the end, which is me trying to do my little Gil Scott-Heron moment. But it’s also got the celebratory and dramatic backing vocals. It felt optimistic, and like the groove carried on, but there’s also ceremony and drama—that’s how I wanted to leave people. It felt like a blissful, sensual ending.”