Joan as Police Woman’s latest album release ‘Damned Devotion’ sees the lyrically adroit soulstress delivering her best work in years. That’s not to say she’s been off form or put out some questionable material, it just means that this album marks a high point. After taking a minor side-step to collaborate with Benjamin Lazar Davis on her last album, 2016’s ‘Let It Be You’, Joan Wasser returns to her forte; smouldering, soulful excellence. Gone are most of the jagged edges, fiddly synth noises and unaligned percussive touches. Where ‘Let It Be You’ helped Joan investigate a creative path that was slightly more experimental, ‘Damned Devotion’ feels more like Wasser playing to, and exploiting, her strengths.
‘Damned Devotion’ is, in large parts, a lesson in restraint; it’s just as much about what’s been left out as to what’s been carefully and considerately added in. There is no sense of urgency, no need to hurry any of it along, just a brilliant sense of calmness built into its very framework. Where Joan’s previous album may have been a little fidgety, ‘Damned Devotion’ is super smooth and definitely, for the most part, chilled out.
Arguably, it’s the tracks with the lowest BPM that help elevate Joan’s latest album to being rather incredible. Opening track ‘Wonderful’ is just that. This is Joan doing what she does best, a ‘Get Direct’ or ‘The Magic’; a sultry, smoking and seductive song that captures you from the opening bars. The deft arrangement lets Joan’s voice take centre stage as she delivers up a vocal that showcases her talent superbly. ‘Silly Me’ is similarly laidback and relaxed as Joan questions and contemplates in a retrospective that oozes heartache and pain. The paired back score is pitched to perfection to act as a foundation on which Joan can project her impassioned vocal. ‘Warning Bell’ and close out track ‘I Don’t Mind’ show equal self control and moderation. Joan’s vocal soars and the songs give up a seemingly uncomplicated joy in their relative simplicity.
The latest single to be lifted from the album, ‘Tell Me’, goes for a more immediate, radio friendly angle with its layered vocal and repeated chorus as JAPW picks up the beat to offer up a more commercial guise. The dueted, rhythmic and slightly funkier ‘Talk About It Later’ and challenging and confrontational ‘The Silence’ see Joan push back in protest. The use of carefully considered instrumentation here definitely lifts each track. The bass keys, percussive excellence, call and response backing vocal and dystopian synth all add something special in their own right. Marrying both sides to Wasser’s performance is the title track itself, a song full of smoking verses and lighter, higher choruses. It’s a song of veiled positivity and aptly captures the spirit of the album.
You can’t help but think when you hear these tracks, why hasn’t she broken through to be a much bigger artist? When you compare her voice to those of her contemporaries such as Jessie Ware, Hannah Reid or even Amy Winehouse, you can’t help being left a little baffled because Joan has all the right stuff. A fantastic, individual voice, an ability to craft a great tune and a flair for writing terrific lyrics. Go figure! For now just enjoy the album, it’s a corker.