British soul singer returns with a coherent second album, which sees her explore and develop her own sound
It was back in 2018 that Jorja Smith‘s debut album, Lost & Found, was released, and she immediately was installed as the new face of British R’n’B. She’s sung on a Drake single, toured with Bruno Mars, and even shared a co-writing credit with Kendrick Lamar – all before that debut was even released.
It’s a canny move then, to wait five years before following it up. Falling Or Flying is an appropriate name too – whereas Lost & Found was a steady, professional debut, her follow-up feels more authentically like Smith’s real self. There’s less in the way of down-tempo ballads, leaving her room to explore and develop her sound: and there seems more chance of flight than fall by the quality of her new songs.
Try Me kicks off the album with some heavy percussion and a bassline that almost shakes the speaker. It’s Smith’s vocals that lift it up a level though, with a haunting, urgent quality that re-occurs throughout the album. There’s certainly more of a focus on the dancefloor this time around – the subtly clattering drums of She Feels, or the storming duet with J Hus (who contributes the adorable line “Imma bad man but sometimes I want a cuddle”) are perfect late-night listens, which would sound equally good in a club or accompanying a night bus journey.
She’s equally at home with full-on pop, as GO GO GO proves – an infectious opening guitar riff gives way to a gorgeous rush of a pop anthem, while the title track leaps between funk, rock and 80s influenced pop, with a beautiful rush of a chorus. There’s even a couple of departures into acoustic balladry – the lovely, minimal Too Many Times shows off Smith’s voice to its best advantage – while Little Things (recently remixed by jungle and DnB supremo Nia Archives) even harks back to early 2000s garage, with some skittering percussion powering the track along in an unstoppable manner.
Fans of Smith’s debut will find plenty to enjoy though. Broken Is The Man is a beautiful, smoky ballad which nods towards Amy Winehouse in her Frank era, while Backwards is a stirring break-up song that manages to sound both sad and hopeful at the same time – with the gorgeous arrangement of the string section at the end of the track worth a special mention too.
There’s always a danger that when an album is this sprawling, and so willing to explore different genres, that it may end up sounding a bit unwieldy – there are 14 tracks all in all, together with a couple of skits. Yet Smith refuses to fall into this trap, by some smart sequencing of the tracks: with the ballads mostly gathered towards the end of the record, Falling Or Flying feels like a coherent album rather than a collection of tracks stringed together.
It may have taken a long five years to put together, but Jorja Smith’s second album confirms her as still a very bright prospect for the future of British soul music.