Album review – Rita Ora: the Rise of a “Phoenix”

It’s always cool when the title of a record matches whatever is going on with the life or career of the artist who’s releasing it. This is true of Rita Ora’s second album, Phoenix.

The Pristina-born English singer just released her second album after rising from the ashes of a label change, relationship turmoils and a series of attempts to break her through the US market.

Yes, it’s true that Rita has not been able to win over the American public, but people are known to love and root for the underdog and this just may add to her charm. In other words, knowing and liking Rita’s music may just be the cool thing in your circle of friends right now.

The European glamour

What makes this album still fresh despite being in the works for a couple of years now is definitely the fact that Pop music hasn’t really been the centre of attention in the musical landscape of 2018. In a world dominated by trap and mumble-rap, Rita is bringing the eclecticism of the European dance/pop scene and visuals that recall the underground imagery of the Beat Generation.

The Ed Sheeran-penned lead single “Your Song,” felt like the female response to his own “Shape of You” with an even more electronic sound. The bombastic “Anywhere” sports an even deeper electronic and dance sound provided by the Swedish Alesso.

The album also features collaborations with Rudimental on “Summer Love” and a guest vocalist feature on the late Avicii’s single “Lonely Together.”

And while it’s only getting a few spins on US Top 40 stations, the latest single “Let You Love Me” is already Rita’s 13th top 10 hit in the UK.

The two sides of the Atlantic

Phoenix‘s production is also a collaborative effort between European and American musical forces.

Just like “For You,” the duet with Liam Payne for the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack (in which Rita also co-starred as the infamous Christian Grey’s sister), whose 80s hair band synths were produced by both Watt and Ali Payami.

In another attempt to conquer American market, Atlantic released “Girls,” a collaboration with Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX, which faced criticism over the lyrics allegedly undermining female homosexuality as a silly game for male consumption.

And then there’s “Keep Talking,” which features American singer Julia Michaels.

Surprise! Vocals!

One thing people don’t expect anymore of pop artists is their ability to actually sing. That’s how much standards have been lowered in the past decade!

So when a female pop star can sing and knows how to use her instrument, it always comes as a surprise. Rita Ora may not be in the upper echeleon of female vocalists, but she can carry a tune effectively.

On the Jimmy Napes-produced “Velvet Rope,” Rita uses her voice to convey a sense of sadness which contrasts the song’s apparently joyful nature. It’s a track that recalls Janet Jackson’s “Whoops Now” or Madonna’s “Cherish” with their doo-wop arrangements.

The use of softer vocals is also an element that characterises the chorus of the P!nk-esque “Only Want You,” one of the best songs on the album, or the sultry “Cashmere,” where the cooing contrasts the dark and hard synths of the production.

Is this Phoenix finally rising?

One can only hope the public will finally give Rita a chance, but if there’s something we’ve learned from the social media era, is that nowadays there are so many factors into making or breaking an artist.

Rita Ora is a talented, smart and hard working woman. She’ll keep herself in the public eye regardless of the commercial outcome of this album. And she’ll still have the rest of the world to turn to if she ever wants to give up with America.

Grade:

80/97

Stream Phoenix on Spotify:

 

 

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