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Damned Devotion (PIAS/Inertia)

“Once I said I’d never lie, but who believed me?/I kept my promise, now I find the joke’s on me.”

There is no throwaway in the choice of “damned” preceding devotion in the title of Joan Wasser’s new album.

Back in familiar territory of close-breathing soul, angular R&B and rhythmic indie pop, Wasser is also back on favourite ground of the potholes and verdant edges, winding and rising roads, of intimate relationships.

“Tell me what you want/Tell me what you need,” she sings in the early single Tell Me, a song which may appear to be about answering a want but in fact is about recognising a need. “You know I won’t be everlasting/So what do you say? …. Why don’t we separate now?/What’s real; what’s not real?”

Doubt is eased from the equation in Steed, whose subtitle “for Jean Genet” clearly puts matters in the realm of the fevered, intense and physical. The Gainsbourg-like pairing of a sleazy bassline and bordello saxophone is matched by Wasser at the top of her register backed by a backing chorus of urgent men – the combination doing most of the heavy innuendo lifting for the lyrics.

Those men are without urgency much later in Talk About It Later, where keyboard sounds wash across half buried piano and that bass has become more pressing than suggestive. Why put off to tomorrow what you can put off to, or run away from, the day after tomorrow?

But … but …. in the scratchy guitar and spiralling-downwards echo of Rely On (imagine The Cure sampled by Jay-Z), as much as the embrace of Warning Bell, where warm bass and Elvis-singing-gospel feel match the resoluteness/stubbornness of a woman saying that’s not a warning bell, that’s sweet music, matters are always addressed while the flesh is near and the mistakes are fresh.

So, no she’s not bunkering down for the duration: The Silence and its prickly, dark-hued sexiness shows that. These entanglements are to be welcomed and feared, lived and survived – it’s not like there’s really an escape from them after all. “Silly me, why did I have to follow you?,” she asks, knowing full well why.

But even when they’re working, when the give is matched by the take, Wasser isn’t so dewy-eyed as to think of them as blessed. At least not unless the blessed also acknowledge the damned.

It’s all there in the “it’s complicated” status update of Wonderful, the album’s opening song of slow electronica and Destiny’s Child languor. Here matters are fuelled by a strong desire, that pulls bodies in, and a lingering suspicion, which brings a slight chill to the sweat built up on those bodies.

I suspect Damned Devotion works best when heard solo, creating inner monologues of reminiscences and assumed wisdom for the future. But I hope someone is adventurous enough to play this in company – in close company – and then report on its subversion. Or perversion.

“We have so much to lose/Why don’t we lose it?”

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