Rita Ora may be a critically acclaimed songwriter, one that still holds the record for the most top 10 singles for a female artist in UK history, but new music has been a long time coming. Her sophomore album, 2018’s Phoenix, held a large collection of hits, but since then Rita has focused on collaborating with other artists, as well as other jobs in other industries. Now, however, she has returned to her solo roots with You & I.
Opener Don’t Think Twice begins with grandiose strings, before transitioning into a more formulaic beat. Lyrically, the song sets up the themes of the album perfectly, talking of a burgeoning relationship and going for love no matter what. This leads into followup and single You Only Love Me, which, although looking at the trials of a relationship, has a similar lovestruck feeling. Continuing the recent trend of taking older pop songs and reimagining them in a hybrid cover/original, Rita’s take of Fat Boy Slim’s Praise You is just as energetic as the 1998 hit, but has enough of a modern twist for it to fit snuggly into the tracklist.
Title track You & I is the album’s first true ballad, a slow tempo synth lead song that chronicles Rita’s relationship. It’s heartfelt and powerful, the chorus drifting on the ambient melody and Rita’s rich vocal. Shape of Me starts with an interesting morphing temp set to a marching drum, Rita taking on an almost country twang to her delivery. Look At Me Now is another hearty piano ballad, while Girl in the Mirror adopts a side-to-side groove and crunchy synth bass.
Notting Hill is an ode to teenage nights out, as well as the area of London that Rita used to frequent. It’s set the finale up beautifully, with I Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend portraying what happens after the party, and potentially finishing the album where it thematically began.
You & I is a solid pop record. It’s not cutting edge, but neither is it trying to be. The songs throughout are gorgeously written, performed, and curated in such a way that a story flows from between the lines. Long time fans of Rita’s won’t be disappointed, and newer fans may be pleasantly surprised.
Writer and Musician, Ryan Bulbeck has been published with a number of online publications, and has worked with a myriad of great artists, both as a performer, and as a producer. His most recent band The 295 are still active, playing shows around the UK.