It’s been three years since Walsall’s Jorja Smith released her debut album Lost & Found to seemingly overnight success. The album peaked at number three in the UK album charts; she was named Best British Female Artist at the 2019 Brits and was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys that same year. Guest spots with everyone from Drake to Kendrick Lamar arrived. A new queen of British soul had been crowned before she had really even begun, still just 21 years old.
Reflecting an honesty with herself and a commendable patience, Smith decided not to rush the follow-up album to Lost & Found, where most would have been tempted to cash in. So we have Be Right Back, an eight-strong EP that she’s released for fans while they await her next full-length, due to come out next year. These songs were deemed not quite right to make the cut for that record and it can be felt in the demo-esque production quality, particularly in the middle portion of the project. Tracks like ‘Home’ and ‘Burn’ are too dry, too bare, unable to maintain one’s interest.
Smith puts the strongest efforts before these at the beginning. ‘Addicted’ is immediately attention-grabbing, full of moody beats and smouldering vocals. A twinkling piano and a hesitant drumbeat then fill ‘Gone’. Lyrically she continues the themes of young love and self-discovery that flourished in Lost & Found (she’s still only 23). “Tell me how to keep my world moving on without you,” she begs in ‘Gone’; “Nah, I’m not here to hug you, I’m just for the night,” she reminds someone in ‘Time’.
Overall the beats remain a sweet fusion of bleary-eyed R&B and smoky soul, probably hinting at a similar sonic path in the upcoming album. ‘Bussdown’ And ‘Digging’ are the only significant departures, the former possessed with a slight dancehall element with rapper Shaybo being given a chance to shine, and the latter reverberating with murky ’90s energy. Whatever one thinks of the production, Smith’s voice is still the standout: she’s still able to stun and stop whenever she chooses as each word is delivered with a graceful sigh. On the closing track ‘Weekend’, most prominently, a simple piano line allows her gorgeous falsetto to fly into the sky.
It takes an artist possessed of poise and self-confidence to name a record Be Right Back: this is a minor release, she’s strong enough to acknowledge. Jorja Smith is still growing, but as she sings on this EP, “You should be addicted to me”: a listener would do well to heed those words and continue with the artist as she heads into her second full-length album.