20 year-old Jorja Smith has already bagged a Brit Critics’ Choice award, gained a spot on February’s magisterial Black Panther soundtrack, and has a personal endorsement from hip hop’s cultural zeitgeist Drake under her belt. Her sensational contribution to the Canadian rapper’s ‘Get It Together’ was a stylish master class in musical scene-stealing – a properly unforgettable, hair-raising moment. She is clearly a talented young person, and has a lot to offer. It’s a real shame then, that her first substantial solo outing – the vaguely titled Lost & Found – is a jumbled mess of borrowed ideas, and erodes rather than builds on the promise of her guest vocals on other tracks.
At times, Lost & Found recalls the gentle smoothness of early Frank Ocean, and there are some elegant flourishes to be found on the album’s title track and midway point. Smith’s voice proves a strong and impressively striking presence that occasionally finds the power to recall the weirdness of FKA Twigs, or, in its stronger moments, the vulnerability of Amy Winehouse. It’s a testimony to Smith’s natural talent that her voice is never really at fault throughout the album – always dependably sharp and melodic, if not a little reliant on the same register. The music – oddly muted at the beginning but gradually evolving into something more interesting – plods along after her.
This is an album of lofty ambitions. On ‘Wandering Romance’ the soundscape takes a sharp left, the easy bass lines washing away to reveal Smith, reverb-heavy and alert, attempting (quite successfully) to channel Sade – a brave and bold touch. Conversely, on ‘Blue Lights’, Smith experiments with bouts of stylish rap over childishly broken melodies, her gritty social commentary about “drugs and violence” akin to something that fellow Brit Plan B might once have come up with. ‘Lifeboats (Freestyle)’ is less convincing, Smith pushing a faux Kate Tempest facade and protesting about tax brackets. Equally, a lot of the great work made by ‘February 3rd’ is undone by a silly spoken word coda about “constantly finding yourself”.
Lyrically, Smith occasionally manages to hit just the right spot, her words conveying the self-absorption of youthful ideals (“never had to work for love”), but most of this just registers as pseudo-wistful teen speak, and has nothing of the lyrical frankness of Winehouse, or even Ocean. Whatever this all suggests about Smith’s musical promise is yet to be seen.