On her debut album ‘Lost and Found’, Jorja Smith fashioned a wistful coming-of-age story; a London-centric, RnB-leaning record that nullified the rough edges and conveyed her as a next-gen purveyor of soft love and disillusioned truths. Since then, Smith grew up. She chafed against her potential, and the lofty expectations placed on her by a clamorous media cycle fixated on her appearance or the men she orbited, rather than her output.
On her long-gestating second album, ‘falling or flying’, Jorja Smith came home to reorient herself. Leaving the high-rise and lights of urbane life behind, Smith returned to her Midlands roots and sought out old friends, Walsall production duo DAMEDAME* (Edith Nelson and Barbara Boko-Hyouyhat) to frame her experience: It’s a winning combination making for some of Smith’s most absorbing compositions, riven with both anxiety and ardour. Together, they paint in earthy, organic hues, reconciling Smith’s early love of brisk 2010s indie and flecked soul with the malleable sound system siren that has propelled her to the top of the charts.
‘falling or flying’ is a sobering, superimposed take on mid-20s life asking more questions than it answers, with Smith outlining the “falling” and “flying” components as opposing but intertwining forces. When the juddering tribal percussion of opener ‘Try Me’ confronts the listener, you get the sense that Smith is done presenting a sanitised version of herself to the masses; she is unknowable and ever-changing. ‘Try Me’ could be series of missives and messages to an ambivalent ex or a scrutinising public, but above all, it’s bristling self-talk. ‘She Feels’ modulates the bombast as a mesh of keys, drums, vocal stop-starts and echoes animate a dissonant vision of lived reality; Smith wades through “familiar faces” and “fake shit”, making sense of the person she was and how to keep them close.
Smith pines for a painless past, and attempts the work of demystifying her relationships and the roles she plays in them; her elliptical lyrics spin yarns and fragments, and her voice, whilst naturally soothing, amps up an internal friction through clipped phrasing – as if she’s stifling a cry or catching her breath. Between ‘Broken Is A Man’ and symphonic closer ‘what if my heart beats faster?’, Smith shifts gears from accepting the shortcomings of an unworthy ex, to the consternation that comes with wanting to fully relinquish oneself to another. A kind of sunless and somnambulant effect courses through ‘falling or flying’. Even the album’s profligate moments – the irresistible ‘Little Things’ and the lilting alté heat of the J Hus-assisted ‘Feelings’ – carries with it a sensation of experiencing highs that are fleeting and unfamiliar – that a good time or a warm embrace won’t last.
On ‘falling or flying’, Jorja Smith explores the ever-permeable veil between private identity and public perception. She questions, she purges, she excavates and embraces the thorny contradictions of her life. Smith continues to shirk commercial viability, stripping away sheen and artifice, presenting herself as dimensional; flawed, bruised, exposed, at times disbelieving, but ultimately worthy of love.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain