Rita Ora, Phoenix
(Atlantic UK) ★★★✩✩
SO, after all the litigation, the purported unreleased album, the six-year wait since her debut, Ora, and the efforts to keep the iron hot while she was unable to strike it (the singles chart has been kind to her in this regard; almost half of Phoenix has featured in it), has it all been worth it? Just about.
We don’t know what all that stuff allegedly canned by her previous label, Roc Nation, sounded like. But it would be a surprise if it were as consistent and assured as this.
The metaphor in the title is obvious: from the ashes, Rita rises anew. A tad melodramatic, perhaps, but then self-mythologising is as essential to pop as the music itself. If there is a problem with Phoenix, it’s that it isn’t clear who or what the self is Ora intends to mythologise.
Ora had a certain brattish personality, whether it was the gobby rush of banger supreme Hot Right Now, or the nails-down-a-blackboard R.I.P. Where Phoenix does have distinct character, it’s largely borrowed. If Your Song sounds like a distaff Ed Sheeran number, that’s because he and Steve Mac created it; if Girls seems an overt sequel to Charli XCX’s sublime Boys, the latter’s presence confirms it.
Phoenix is a strong set of songs, deftly assembled, easy on the ear. It’s an album for a maturing artist to be proud of, yet you might struggle to identify its originator if you didn’t already know.
Prioritising quality over individuality is Rita Ora’s prerogative. But it’s surely not beyond her to attain both.