Rita Ora was a pop star waiting to happen. Britain’s very own answer to Rihanna? The record label execs must have been barely able to contain their glee when they first clapped eyes on her. The marketing approach was clever too; introduce her with an initial guest slot on a sure-fire club smash (DJ Fresh‘s Hot Right Now) and then draft in the UK’s hottest property to rap over her solo single proper (Tinie Tempah on R.I.P.). The collaborations don’t stop there – Drake, Chase & Status, Stargate and The Dream are among the producers drafted in to tailor the album into a product worthy of Rihanna herself.
The defining feeling here is of something completely and utterly ‘produced’ – a factory line-up of the biggest names and beats in contemporary pop, machine tooled into something so sleek it’s in danger of slipping through the ether entirely. Ora, whose personality is so bubbly and effusive, is here reduced to a faceless entity. It’s only really on the speak-singing cod-raps of Uneasy that a little of her persona shines through, dancing between the pumped-up synths and breezy reggae-tinged rhythms.
That’s not to say the album is a misfire though, for Ora has some great moments. Been Lyin’ marries the driven piano sounds of Rihanna’s Love The Way U Lie with the singalong bits of Coldplay‘s Princess Of China via a chorus that could have come straight out of The Script‘s songbooks. It’s a mish-mash, but one that ticks the disparate checkboxes of modern pop with confidence. Heavy-handed synths and truck-sized beats are everywhere on the album, lending themselves to David Guetta-esque euro-techno on the excellent Radioactive, or stadium-scale pop on Shina Ya Light. In both cases, the songs could have just as easily been recorded by a Cheryl Cole or a Demi Lovato, but removed from the burden of pre-established superstardom, Ora delivers the songs with a sense of freedom that stacks up well to the themes of letting loose and instant pleasure that drape themselves over the album.
Sometimes, the commercial formula works so well it trips over itself into a ditch of tedium. J Cole duet Love And War is a prime culprit, cohesive with the rest of the LP, but with a watered-down melody and filtered through a sludgy soup of electronics that threatens to drag it under entirely. Much the same can be said for will.i.am‘s input on Fall In Love – any headway made by the track’s muscular clubland pulse is discarded amidst an inelegant application of vocoder.
It’s left to How We Do (Party) to tie everything together. Sandwiched halfway between Jessie J‘s Domino and Katy Perry‘s Last Friday Night, so similar you’d be forgiven for thinking a computer managed to subsume and replicate the two songs into this. But it’s a piece of sugary pop indulgence so sweet it manages to erase away many of the more minor gripes with the album as a whole. Just like Rihanna, Rita Ora works precisely because she is so completely and wholly commercial, with her debut playing to its designated market and winning. So what for individual flair? As the central refrain of How We Do extols, there’s time only to “party and bullshit”.