Review: "Begin Again" by Jessie Ware

16. April 2023

Many of my closest friendships emerged on dance floors in Manchester, Birmingham, and Berlin, dancing to disco tracks old and new.

Disco has had many lives. As the pandemic hit, it returned to the zeitgeist, with all the fervour of its earlier reincarnations, but perhaps, a little predictably.

You see, disco makes people happy. It puts a smile on glum faces. It permits you to have fun. It encourages you to dance. It was the perfect go-again for the genre at a time when humans needed it more than ever.

Jessie Ware’s album, “What’s Your Pleasure?”, was a significant part of that moment. Marking a musical shift for Jessie, it was full of optimism and a longing for the dance floor, a world sorely lost in the isolation of the period.

That album spoke to me. It still does.

So, with Jessie’s upcoming follow-up album, “That! Feels Good!”, I am expecting big things. Can she do it again?

Having repeatedly listened to the latest early release, “Begin Again”, I think I’ve been asking the wrong question. This album, and particularly this song, are a rebirth of their own. We should not ask if Jessie can do the same thing again; we should ask if she can change it all again.

I’m here to tell you she can.

So what of the song? The piano in “Begin Again” is a triumph, jubilant in its heady, intoxicating disco sumptuousness. It’s a rhythmic staccato rat-a-tat-tat, driving the song forward. It’s tension-filled syncopation, begging for release. And it’s a defining hook, repeating forever, urging me to dance.

We get it first about a minute into the song. After an intro reminiscent of some of Jungle’s more recent tracks—Smile, Bonnie Hill, and Truth—it comes with questions that Jessie implores we ask ourselves: Why do my realities take over all my dreams? Why does all the purest love get filtered through machines?

The piano beseeches us to answer. It’s a rumbling, rhythmic bass that runs and runs and runs, never letting you go, grabbing you, holding you, demanding you listen.

God, that hook makes me feel all the things. It makes me stomp and swing and move. It is hefty and deliberate. More than that, its genius is that it features rarely. We get it once early on and then again post-crescendo, as the song closes. It makes you want it. Do I.

You’ll find complex themes in the remainder of the song. The lyrics are solemn, an aching eulogy to a life lost. It’s in direct contrast to the ascendency of the disco spirit, setting up a battle that rages throughout.

The song challenges us on why we ceded the most human of emotions—love—to machines. It’s a prescient reminder that we live in a complicated world, and perhaps we went too far.

I think about all the risks I’ve taken in my life. Some have paid off, and others have not. My work consumes me most of the time. It leaves gaps in my social life. It banishes loved ones to the sidelines. It forces family to take a backseat. Regrettably, I spend more time with my phone or sitting in front of a computer than with the people I love.

Jessie cracked open my soul. She read me like a book.

And then, we get the definitive disco crescendo. Everything becomes frenetic. Vocals soar. The brass and the strings dare you, goad you almost. Trumpets. A funky guitar riff. A gospel choir. It envelops your senses, ever-building, ever-questioning, ever-evoking the push and pull of the human condition.

When the release finally happens, your ears are consumed in the warmth of disco opulence. This is what bliss must feel like. And then that hook comes again, this time more vibrant, more fulfilled like it itself went on a journey of discovery and returned rejuvenated.

The lyrics talk of our love being refracted through the prism of filters made by machines, but there is no filter in “Begin Again”. This is pure, unadulterated disco at its best. The classic disco elements are all there, but Jessie dares them to start over, to join her in this reawakening.

“Begin Again” is majestic. It’s not simply another disco track; it’s a reworking of the genre itself. Sure, we tread a well-trodden path, but it’s implemented afresh. Everything means something new. This is disco for the current generation, one grappling with a world unsure of what it might become.

The piano is an absolute standout for me, driving the song forward with a rhythmic energy that is impossible to resist. The lyrics capture the moment, right here, right now, challenging us to question the consequences of our actions. And the crescendo is sublime, with those vocals—oh my god, those vocals—alongside brass, strings, and guitar, that take us to another place.

“Begin Again” is a perfect example of how music can lift and transport us, despite the questions we may force ourselves to ask. Jessie has truly outdone herself. We have come to expect no less.

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