Album Reviews

Jordan Rakei – The Loop

(Verve Forecast / Decca) UK release date: 10 May 2024

There’s a telling assurance in the way he makes music, referencing classic soul and a little jazz, but keeping a firm eye on what lies ahead

Jordan Rakei - The Loop Five albums in, Jordan Rakei delivers something of a musical watershed. Up until now we have enjoyed Rakei’s polished, radio-friendly productions, his elegant soul voice, and a talent for writing subtle melodies that hang around in your head, taking root after a couple of listens. Yet along with those qualities there has been the sense of a protective layer held in place, a guard to mind him from a total baring of the emotions.

Until now. With The Loop, the singer and multi-instrumentalist crosses the line to give us a no-holds barred window to the soul. It may be significant that, for his fifth album, Rakei has also crossed into his 30s. Life-changing events have taken hold, with a wife and young son to take care of, along with hints of darkness around the edges. Questions are being asked, and to his enormous credit Rakei is sharing his humility with the listener as the answers are not fully forthcoming.

The lyrics on the loop are extremely relatable delivered with a new-found frankness. “I’m royally fucked up”, he confesses at the start of Royal, right off the back of a persistent mantra on Forgive where, after a verse that shares how “I would see that moving sets me free,” he intones “I can forgive myself” a whole eight times in every chorus.

It is one of many memorable features of an album where we also hear about the good things. Flowers is a profound, heartfelt gift to his wife and is Rakei in a nutshell, earnest in delivery with that beautiful, expressive vibrato he applies to the vocal. Freedom is even better, a torch song with gospel choir, a moment to encourage the listener to stand up and shout from the rooftops – but then to sit down and hum along with the refrain.

A craftsman’s touch is applied to the arrangements on the album, with string settings that are both sensitive and beautiful. Hopes And Dreams, another emotional high point sung from the perspective of new-found fatherhood, has the sort of scoring Nellee Hooper would be proud of. Meanwhile the handclaps on Amends sound like they might be ushering in one of Gregory Porter’s more radio-friendly singles, before cutting to a beautifully layered soul song that fits the distinctive vocal hand in glove.

Just when it feels that the album might be too long, everything comes together on the closing pair Miracle and A Little Life, where we get a window into Rakei’s life. “And so it came to our greatest gift, he shows me how life truly is,” goes the closing words of the latter. “The darkness fell right off the cliff, what kind of garden of love is this?” And then, tellingly: “I’ve come to peace with you.”

There was definitely something in my eye by this point, the keenly felt torch song reaching its goal to close what is a deep and meaningful album. Jordan Rakei now has a telling assurance in the way he makes music, not afraid to reference classic soul and a little jazz, but like the lyrical content keeping a firm eye on what lies ahead, channelling a future where no musical stone looks likely to be unturned. The Loop is his most profound and accomplished achievement to date, a landmark from which he can move on with his head held high.

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