By Nick Sligh
Nearly three years after the release of her phenomenal debut album “Lost & Found,” Jorja Smith has returned with a new, eight-track EP, “Be Right Back.” Only 20 years old at the time of her acclaimed debut, Jorja arrived on the radar as an emerging global R&B star. As an artist with an incredible voice and refined sound for somebody so young, Jorja’s ceiling is limitless.
The new EP comes as a holdover project before Smith’s sophomore album. Following up such a successful debut will be a tall task, but the new project hopes to lend insight into the sounds and thematics with which Jorja is working, and to simply give some music to fill the gap in time.
Here are my track-by-track reactions and overall initial impressions of “Be Right Back.”
Jorja Smith: “Be Right Back” (May 14, 2021)
The intro starts the project on strong footing. The production, a smooth instrumental infused with wavy synths, guitar and percussion, is perfectly fitting. Jorja’s vocals are wonderful throughout, providing a heartfelt chorus that showcases the potency of her delivery, all while she comes to grasp the lack of reciprocity she is feeling in the relationship: “The hardest thing / You are not addicted to me / I’m the only thing you should need / You should be addicted to me” — simple in message, with emotions delivered clearly and effectively.
The looped percussion and piano instrumental continues the trend of fitting beats for Jorja’s vocals and content. Even more melancholy than the intro, “Gone” features Jorja coming to terms with loss — not necessarily the loss of a romantic partner, although it could certainly be interpreted that way — as she explained that this song was written about somebody she knew who lost their life in a car accident.
- “Bussdown” ft. Shaybo
A major switch in vibe and content comes here. The reggae-influenced production complements the lighthearted, simply-written song, allowing Jorja to boast for a moment. The chorus is particularly catchy, and Shaybo’s feature also provides a smooth transition song.
The shortest track on the EP, “Time” still showcases an impressive array of versatility. With one verse, one chorus and a skit outro, the structure is simple, but Jorja executes effortlessly. The chorus is particularly impressive, with Jorja hitting such a wide range of notes smoothly and with great energy.
“What’s worse than lookin’ at my neighbors pretendin’ that they’re happy / Is one day lookin’ at myself and I’m sayin’ that I’m sorry.” The EP’s sorrowful nature returns, with Jorja reflecting on the struggle of following her heart and leaving a relationship that she knows is damaging her. The minimalist production, provided almost solely by a guitar, puts Jorja’s vocals in the spotlight, allowing her to keep shining.
Undoubtedly one of the strongest songs on the EP, “Burn” combines flawless vocals with a potent story, captivating chorus and simple but perfectly complementary melodic production. “Little girl doin’ all she can / You had your eye on only a few things / And maybe it wouldn’t go anywhere / Had to be real with your dream.” Predictably, it’s a track dealing with burnout and the negative side effects that can come along with relentlessly pursuing a dream or ambition. “You burn like you never burn out / Try so hard, you can still fall down / You keep it all in, but you don’t let it out / You try so hard, don’t you know you’ve burnt out?”
Accompanied by a significant uptick in the instrumental’s tempo, Jorja now comes in with less melancholy and more frustration. The production is solid enough, the verses are satisfactory and the chorus provides a bit of a twist in the general tone of a lot of the project. Even so, there is nothing super captivating here — it’s one of my less-favorite tracks.
“I stand out there, where it always came alive / Wastin’ pennies in the night / Waitin’ up till it was light.” The intense falsetto of the pre-chorus is immediately captivating, again highlighting Jorja’s range and vocal prowess. The emotionally potent song goes back to a more somber and wishful tone, regretfully looking at time and effort invested in the past. “Don’t work hard just to spend it / Keep your money, it’s not only for the weekend / You keep me waitin’ for a minute, I can take that / I was young enough to think that you would come back.”
Overall, “Be Right Back” is a more-than satisfactory holdover record until Jorja’s second album. Though not nearly as cohesive and coherent as her debut album, that’s not exactly what this project was supposed to be. Especially in tracks like “Burn” and “Addicted,” we see Jorja doing what she does best: fantastic, melodically in-tune vocals with strong emotion, complemented by soothing and enjoyable production. A couple of the tracks don’t fit the standard of quality that was established on “Lost & Found,” but that lack was also to be expected. The project is still impressive from front to back, and provides some of the better R&B tracks so far this year.
It is still only the beginning for one of the more talented young vocalists in the world, and there is no reason to be anything other than excited for her future in music.
Favorite Songs: “Burn,” “Addicted,” “Time”
Album Score: 75/100
Check out this Spotify playlist and like it to follow along with some of some of my favorite songs of 2021 as the year progresses!