The best-selling album of 2012 had a lot in common with the best-selling album of 2011. In fact, it was the same album: Adele’s 21. That must’ve come as a blow to Taylor Swift, whose Red otherwise would’ve easily taken top honors yet trailed by over a million units. It’s hard to believe “Rolling in the Deep” could sell that many LPs, especially given the influx of new voices from the U.K. like Jessie Ware and Emeli Sandé. While neither is in any position to challenge Adele’s pop supremacy, each is poised to make inroads on our shores.
It’s worth noting that both Ware and Sandé visit Lincoln Hall just days apart, yet only the former’s visit falls within the Tomorrow Never Knows festival. Ware’s not a star yet, but she’s bigger than TNK, which marks her Chicago debut. Even before she released the single that announced her solo career, the light-speed and light-as-a-feather romp “100%” (since renamed “If You’re Never Gonna Move”), Ware was hailed as the new voice of bass music thanks to a handful of guest verses with respected electronic artists such as SBTRKT. However, once her own album, Devotion, finally arrived, it revealed a singer who prefers downtempo to dubstep, which makes perfect sense: Ware’s voice is a breathtaking instrument, easily suited to torchy confessionals, coasting on a synthetic pulse and oozing sensuality.
While Ware may stand out on the TNK slate for her more mainstream qualities, compared to Sandé, her music remains resolutely left wing. On last year’s Our Version of Events, Sandé (whose birth name, oddly, happens to be Adele) positions herself as a pop centrist sharing more in common with Swift. The English-born, Scottish-reared singer already has a proven track record as a songwriter, having penned potential hits for stars as varied as Alicia Keys and Susan Boyle. Sandé could outsing either of them; she holds a stunning set of pipes given to the same melismatic acrobatics as Beyoncé, and traces of the same bubblegum gospel abound on a power ballad like “Clown,” where Sandé’s a ringer for the diva. But after warming up stages for Coldplay, she’s decided to make a bid on her own terms. And perhaps she’ll succeed if sales of 21 ever taper off.