Rita Ora's second album Phoenix has been a long time coming. Released six years after her 2012 debut Ora, a time in which the pop star took on a legal dispute with her former label, Roc Nation, Phoenix arrives under her new label, Atlantic Records, who she signed with in 2016.
Though the record was recorded over the past two years, it sounds more dated than that. Ora's favoured genre is clearly EDM, and many of the songs on Phoenix resemble David Guetta-style pop of the early 2010s, rather than more contemporary trends like post-Lorde minimalism or Max Martin-power choruses. Ora largely saves proceedings with her stunning vocals and warmly authentic lyrics, but Phoenix's production keeps the album stuck in a forgettable past.
Anywhere, an early single and the opening track, is an example of this. The catchy, poetic pre-chorus gives way to a chorus that's just an EDM vocal squiggle on loop; the same thing happens later on First Time High. This style doesn't necessarily make for a bad pop song, but it's been done to death, and on Phoenix, it only wastes strong ideas and clouds Ora's talents.
Her best assets shine through elsewhere. New Look is an all-too-brief banger that showcases her upper register, while recent single Let You Love Me packs an emotional lyrical punch. Her slower jams work especially well, such as on Only Want You or Keep Talking, which has Julia Michaels providing the album's best feature. Summer Love comes close to these mid-tempo tracks, with Ora singing in a calm, gentle croon – but with a Rudimental feature, it inevitably blasts into a drum and bass track. The two styles are at odds on the same song, and while it's catchy, it loses its elevation as it's pulled in two different directions.
It's unfortunate that after such a long wait and stressful legal battle, Ora's resulting record doesn't quite carry enough power to let it make a splash. But it's a welcome sound to hear her sing with such authenticity, and one hopes that Phoenix sets her career on a new path in which she can operate on her own terms.
Rita Ora, Phoenix
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