“What’s my pet name?” enquires Jorja Smith at the midpoint of Be Right Back, the highly-anticipated follow-up to her 2018 debut, Lost & Found. Speaking with a woman nicknamed Bejoice (“Bejoice, as in, like, rejoice?” Smith gleefully notes), the casual exchange reintroduces the English songwriters exceptionally warm presence. The downside to this moment, which serves as a closer to ‘Time’, is that Smith comes away without a pet name.
Not to worry, though. The absence of a fun moniker fails to lessen her remarkable career achievements to date or compromise her already self-assured artistic identity. In five short years, since uploading songs to Soundcloud, Smith has amassed an impressive celebrity fanclub, featuring Drake and Kendrick Lamar, as well as receiving Mercury Prize and Grammy nominations on the back of her widely-acclaimed debut. The rapid rate of her success resides in the universality of her nostalgically intoned arrangements and effortlessly cool nature, both of which remain intact across her latest body of work.
Moments into Be Right Back, the sonic progression of the material is immediate. We hear, unabashedly, how she incorporates the studio into her arrangements. Be it the subtle textures on ‘Addicted’, a wonderful downtempo pop number with drum motifs taking us back to Madonna’s ’98 hit ‘Frozen’, or the contemporary polish of ‘Digging’s’ rolling instrumentation. The pristine production work across these compact eight tracks emphasise how Smith is confidently honing her artistry. That’s not to say Be Right Back sacrifices the intimacy that characterised her previous offering. Instead, she retains a unique closeness with her audience. Furthermore, Amy Winehouse’s Frank continues to influence her arrangements, notably ‘Time’ and ‘Burn’. Elsewhere, she looks to FKA Twigs and Lana Del Rey for ways to present vocals on ‘Gone’ and ‘Weekend’, respectively.
Outside of the immediately catchy arrangements, with soulful jazz inflections and subtle reggae fusions, Jorja Smith’s shining personality is the core strength of this thoroughly enjoyable record.