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Rita Ora ‘You and I’ review: pop giant plays it safe on diary-influenced third album

Slick and sleek yet unsurprising are the watchwords for Rita Ora’s diary-influenced new album You & I

3.0 rating

By Hannah Mylrea

Rita Ora
Rita Ora. (Picture: Press)

It’s been almost five years since Rita Ora last released an album. In that time the artist has added new hyphenates to her already extensive job title: The Voice Australia coach, Masked Singer UK panellist, and (acting as) a scientist in blockbuster flick Pokémon Detective Pikachu. She wears so many different hats that “what is Rita Ora known for?” has become a common online query.

It was, of course, her music that kickstarted her career. A string of number one hits (‘R.I.P.’, ‘How We Do (Party)’, and DJ Fresh collaboration ‘Hot Right Now’) pre-empted her 2012 debut Ora, which was followed by additional smash singles and 2018’s slick, superior follow-up album, Phoenix. Earlier this year, Ora received a BRIT Billion award, which celebrates artists that have reached over one billion UK streams. That is to say, her musical career isn’t to be sneered at.

Her third album You & I is self-described as a “diary of the last few years”. Released as part of a new deal with BMG, one where Ora will own all of her own masters, it tells — in Ora’s own words — her “love story”. Depicting “the story I wrote whilst I was getting married”, it spins these moments of her relationship over super-sleek instrumentals and neat production. Where Phoenix single ‘Anywhere’ was a glorious cut of wonky pop, with Ibiza-flecked sonics guiding it through its brilliantly unusual hooks, You & I takes no chances. Radio-ready offerings like ‘You Only Love Me’ and ‘Waiting For You’ miss the bite of previous releases, and are sandwiched between sticky ballads, like the forgettable title track.

The record shines when it tests the limits: UK garage meets Gloria Gaynor on the belting ‘Don’t Think Twice’, while admirably chaotic lyrics can be found on ‘Unfeel It’, which depicts the overwhelming emotions of new love as Ora admits: “Baby how dare you mess up my mind / I’m freaking out, I’m freaking out, I’m freaking out…”. Meanwhile, the weirdly wonderful reworking of Fatboy Slim’s iconic ‘Praise You’, titled ‘Praising You’, may not trump the original, but is wickedly good fun.

Too often, though, the tracks wash over you as shiny pop songs that fail to draw intrigue. The album is filled with universal synth riffs or clubby drops that are easily digested, yet miss the personality of previous Ora releases. While musical peers are pushing pop’s boundaries, experimenting with genre or lyrical content, this third album sees Rita Ora playing it safe.