For her fifth album Damned Devotion Joan as Police Woman aka Joan Wasser has stripped the Motown-edged Soul stylings of 2014 The Classic for a smokier, simpler yet still Soulful synth heavy sound. Often celebrated for her lyricism, Wasser sets the bar higher on this new record, covering familiar territory such as love and all its surrounding hurt and guilt, but she also opens up further, none more so than on ‘What was it like’ a tribute to her late father, which flickers and almost trembles with warm emotion.
What makes the record perhaps her best though, is the music. Her soft, smooth vocal delivery sometimes lulls you into a state where suddenly, if you’re not careful, making a shopping list, or going over in your mind thoughts of finding that plumber to stop the tap dripping are forefront, and listening – really listening, has stopped in favour of pleasant background noise. And that has always been the shame of it. Here though, Wasser seems to have loosened the shackles and the record fizzes with ideas even when the music is at its smoothest – opener Wonderful has these woozy chiming synths and ethereal backing vocals, wheras she knows very well on the brilliant Warning Bell she can do whatever she wants, and be as bland as she wants (she isn’t) because of the killer melody she’s written.
The whole thing has this 70’s sheen over it, moments of strings, grand piano and funky guitar permeate the synths (particularly on Talk about it later where all three make an appearance) as if Robert Palmer has gifted a woozy version of his backing tracks to Wasser to use as she sees fit. There are high points dotted all over the album, Warning Bells imperious, but Tell me is a genuinely great pop record, and when she reaches up into the loftier parts of her range it sends a shiver down your spine. She finds the funk on Steed (for Ganet) and the initially almost trappy Valid Jagger, while perhaps best of all is The Silence, Wassers anger almost tangible while the edgy rip of the synth solo is worth the price of the record alone.
Wasser has written some great songs in her career as Joan as Police Woman, but with Damned Devotion she’s arguably written her first consistently great album. It’s a record that can draw you in, and makes you want to invest your time in it, and thats a rarity these days.
Now, I gotta find a plumber.
Damned Devotion is out February 9th on Play It Again Sam.,