A collection of beautifully raw and honest lyrical portraits of 21st-century relationships.
“So I’ve stepped into womanhood”, are the words to which Jorja Smith describes the formative period in which she has produced her sophomore album “Falling or flying”. These words are certainly apt when we consider that Smith was just 20 years old when she released her Mercury Prize-nominated debut record, “Lost and Found”. Although she was young she displayed a social awareness that was beyond her years as she used her music to tackle cultural issues, like that of racial profiling and police brutality in “Blue Lights”. However her youthful nature could be seen in the adolescent naivety of young relationships on “Teenage Fantasy”. Smith’s next release came in the form of the EP “Be Right Back” which she described metaphorically as a “little waiting room” until her next album. This proved to temporarily satiate fans as sultry, seductive tracks such as “Be Honest” and “Addicted” showed how Smith was stylistically evolving. Now with “Falling or flying” Smith has produced her most mature and self-assured work to date.
With this latest record, Smith is seemingly picking up where she left off, as she explores similar motifs in her songwriting that were present on her debut album. The title track of the album “Falling or Flying” leads with atmospheric piano keys that give way to Smiths’ beautifully honest and raw vocals. Smith lyrically weaves an image of the anxieties and insecurities that come with modern relationships, “I don’t know where you are, but I don’t wanna go to sleep, babe”. The tumultuous nature and intensity of this relationship has got to the point where Smith is unable to determine whether she is elated or endangered as she reveals “I could be falling, flying I wouldn’t know the difference”.This candid lyricism is how Smith’s music is able to resonate so intimately with her audience.
One of the highlights of the record is the danceable “Little Things”, which feels like the spiritual successor to one of Smith's earlier hits the Preditah produced “On My Mind”. The track is filled with afrobeat drumming that melds seamlessly into elements of percussive garage house. A sonic anomaly within the album, the lyrics perfectly capture the excitement of an impulsive night out and the intoxication of a chance encounter with an infatuation, “With you it's such a sweet escape”. There is a jubilant sentiment to the track as Smith desires and wants to revel in the “little things that get me high”, the whomping bassline outro leaves us wanting to experience the same ecstasy.
The variety and ability that Smith displays in blending genres within this album feels to be one of its strongest assets. “The Greatest Gift” is emblematic of this as it is driven by a hypnotic jazz tempo backed with emotive gospel vocals, with a Lauryn Hill-inspired feature verse by Lila Iké. However the most unpredictable of Smith’s genre blending has to be the indie rock-inspired “GO GO GO”. The composition is all crisp acoustic strumming and thumping drums that would not be out of place on a record by the likes of Two Door Cinema Club. This track is indicative of Smith’s more versatile nature as an artist and her willingness to be more experimental.
“Falling or flying” is a strong step forward for Smith in her progression as an artist, as she continues to go from strength to strength with her musical output. There is a real beauty to how Smith is able to convey so much emotion and pain in her music and this is best demonstrated on the album’s closer, “What if my heart beats faster?”. From the orchestral grandeur of the intro right through to its passionate crescendo, it is a tour de force of emotion. This lyrical depiction of the end of a strained relationship gives way to Smith’s confidence within herself and her music, “There’s no need to run, no need to hide because I’ve figured out, I got this”. An assertive statement that feels to be reflective of both Smith’s maturity and solidifying of her artistic status.