Jessie Ware’s 2020 release What’s Your Pleasure was one of the early pandemic’s great revelations — a pop album that successfully brought the movement, yearning, and euphoria of the dance club into everyone’s homes. It was a perfect setting for the British singer and songwriter’s voice, luxurious and sophisticated but still highly accessible.
Ware’s follow-up to that achievement, titled That! Feels Good! in Shania Twain house punctuation style, zeroes in on the many pleasures of dance music. Bodies and bodily sensations are emphasized, while inhibitions are shaken off in pursuit of ecstasy, even when that means simply disappearing (along with one’s ego) into a mass of dancing bodies. It’s also brighter and funkier than its predecessor, full of big brass and grooves that amplify the feeling of joy.
The title track, penned by Ware with collaborators including Shungudzo, Daniel Ford, and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, is a perfect example. It opens with an orgy of breathy voices uttering the title phrase before transforming into a limber disco-funk jam that lands somewhere between Prince and Stevie Wonder, full of scratchy guitar, blaring horn hits, and a supple, syncopated bassline. “Just remember: pleasure is a right,” Ware sings. It’s both affirmation and rallying cry: don’t be ashamed to ask for what you want.
That’s a recurring theme throughout the album. In the single “Free Yourself,” Ware flips into disco diva mode with an anthem of sexual liberation for queer and straight people alike. “Free yourself, keep on moving up that mountaintop/Why don’t you please yourself?” she sings. She seemingly runs the entire length of her considerable range, belting the choruses and nodding to Donna Summer’s eternal “I Feel Love” as the song shifts from piano-driven disco to piano-driven house and then back again for its satisfying final vamp.
Sometimes Ware just embraces the feeling of being unabashedly horny. “Freak Me Now” opens with some porn-worthy moaning before turning into sticky electro-funk. In “Shake the Bottle,” she offers a sly instruction manual on how to get her off. And in the velvety disco tune “These Lips,” she describes a sensation of erotic intrigue: “These two lips could do so much more,” she purrs.
It’s certainly not overlong at 10 tracks, but That! Feels Good! does seem frontloaded with its punchiest tunes. Still, there are moments in the back half that really work, like the lithe, airy “These Lips,” and the body-positive “Beautiful People.” After some cheeky rapping from Ware, it calls to mind the cowbell-friendly era of LCD Soundsystem, but with all the punk angularity replaced by horns and a celebratory message. “Stand up, turn around, take a bow, because you look so good,” she sings.
That! Feels Good! is at its absolute best when it pinpoints that intoxicating connection between body and emotion. “Begin Again” sounds like something out of the classic Salsoul catalog, all groove-heavy with lush, choral melodies that cascade off of one another. “Why does all the purest love get filtered through machines?” she wonders. It’s a plea for renewal and human connection, the kind that the dance floor is uniquely equipped to provide.