While browsing WhoSampled’s “Tracks that Sampled Prince” section online, I discovered that the chorus of Jessie Ware’s debut single “Running” used the drum loop from Prince’s 1987 cult classic “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.” My initial reaction was “Hold up! He allowed someone—a young artist no less—to sample one of his very best recordings? Chris, buy this album on iTunes. Like, right now!” The curiosity of my then 23-year-old mind came with high reward: a filler-free, modern British pop classic.
The title track wraps itself in an intoxicating fog of sparkling synths, submerged bass notes, and jazzy guitar twitches that complements the yearning and sensuality within her lyrics. “Wildest Moments” brings out the singer’s inner Alicia Keys as she details intense moments in relationships. “It’s about a fight I had with my best friend, Sarah. She and I argue a lot, but we are also the best of friends,” Ware told The Sun at the time. “This was a song that demonstrates that we can go from being amazing together to being so terrible.”
The aforementioned “Running” is a stunning combination of Prince’s percussive genius, Sade’s soothing elegance, and Whitney Houston’s defiant ferocity all rolled into one. “Swan Song” adds yet another dimension to a remarkably versatile record, merging a punchy backbeat with breezy harmonies that nod to Lewis Taylor’s mid-90s gems. The heartbroken siren of “Taking in Water” is another marvel that Rihanna would salivate in her sleep for. In its most literal interpretation, the song is a reflection of Ware’s stormy relationship with her younger brother. “We were not getting on that well at the time, and this song was a way of having a conversation with him,” she also told The Sun. “I am quite hard on him a lot of the time, and I wanted to write a really heartfelt song to him.”
From the categorically elusive production (courtesy of Dave Okumu, Julio Bashmore, and Kid Harpoon) to the rich soulfulness of Jessie Ware’s voice, Devotion offers more than just a promising young talent; it offers a love letter to a bygone era where pure talent matters more than endless spectacle.