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The Unknown Music: Rita Ora ‘Phoenix’

A repetitive collection of flawed pop songs that are perfect for the dance floor.

Curt Tagtmeier

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I happened upon this album while browsing the CD collection at Super Target. Since the album did not have the artist’s name of the front, I thought at first it was a new album by the band Phoenix. After some detective work, I discovered it was by Rita Ora. After getting over my disappointment that the French rockers did not have a new release, I gave the new album a few listens without knowing anything about Ora.

The new pop artist has collaborations on the record with the late Avicii, Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, Julia Michaels, Charli XCX, Liam Payne, and Rudimental. With so many collaborators, the fact that each song sounds similar is quite surprising. Does this say anything about input from any collaborator on another artist’s album? As I began to listen to the tracks, an epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks. Every song except for the last one, “Hell of a Life,” sounds exactly alike in terms of structure and theme. Each of these songs is a blueprint of one another: starting slowly, gradually building to the hook, then the EDM element enters the song as she sings a short chorus. Phoenix could have had approximately ten of the tracks as one really long song, actually. Many times the remix portion of the track comes on, I cannot help but think that it sounds just like a Marshmello remix. I could not believe that he did not participate on this album.

Each song utilizes the same theme: love, loss, longing, and other matters of the heart. Every chorus typically reaches a total of four to five words, but never more than that. It is repeated over and over until you are fairly annoyed by the end of the song.  All of this combines for a majority of the album being a very boring listen. similar elements will always contribute to the style of an album, but it is crucial for an album to vary that style to promote diversity with the album overall.

For example, the lyrics may be seen as typical pop themes that appear on other pop artists’ albums. Yet, I had the sneaking suspicion that my ears were hearing the same themes over and over in slightly different ways, but only in a minimal way. I thought about the perfect audience for this album, junior high girls. Now, it is not all bad news when it comes to this album Rita Ora does have an excellent voice. She reminds me of a young Christina Aguilera. All the songs, however repetitive, are perfect for the dance floor, which may in fact have been the entire point in the first place. On the album, there is a track that can be found on the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack, “For You” with Liam Payne.

This is a question that I have always had about artists placing songs they did for a soundtrack on something like their debut album. I wonder if they included it because fans want to hear it, or if there’s not enough material for the album, or the simple reason that the track needs more exposure. Are there artists out there who flatly refuse to place a soundtrack song on one of their albums? I have to believe that someone like Beck says to himself, “I cannot include that, it is already on another album.”

On“Girls” with Bebe Rexha, Cardi B, and Charli XCX, the lyrics revolve around the theme of liking girls, which is a gigantic surprise. Perhaps the other songs with lyrics of love, longing, and loss do not necessarily pertain exclusively to a boy-girl scenario. Miss Ora is the only one that could possibly answer that question. The album concludes with “Hell  of a Life,” which sounds much different than the other songs on the album probably because a noticeable guitar is  used on the track. Since the rest of the album sounds so repetitive, this track is a refreshing change.

Overall, maybe this album is destined for the dance floor and multiple remixes, but the lack of depth for is something really stands out. Despite that, there is a ray on sunshine with the last track that could possibly lead to that elusive depth. Hopefully, on her next album, Rita Ora can promote a more diverse listening experience. Diversity truly is the spice of not only life, but music as well.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Curt Tagtmeier is a writer and librarian hailing from Chicago, Illinois. He has a Master’s degree in history and library science. He is currently writing a music series entitled Chances Are Music Is All I Got, which began in May 2017 available on Amazon. The series aims to review 100 live premium concerts by May 2019. Mr. Tagtmeier is currently on 80 shows so far. You can follow this journey on Instagram @chancethebook11 and his Tumblr blog, How Am I Not In The Strokes Yet. When he isn’t writing or listening to great music, Curt is most likely sleeping.

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