Singles Club: Jorja Smith shoots for Adele-level ballad emotion on ‘Let Me Down’

Each week on the FACT Singles Club, our writers rate and slate the biggest new tracks of the last seven days.

This week, UK hopeful Jorja Smith enlists Stormzy for an emotional piano ballad, Kali Uchis unfurls the ultimate funk fantasy with Bootsy Collins and Tyler, The Creator, and make some noise for the woke Black Eyed Peas!

Elsewhere, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future and James Blake bring plenty of energy on Black Panther OST cut ‘King’s Dead’, while Troye Sivian springs to life with his pop anthem ‘My My My!’. There’s also a new one from EMA. Here’s how the week’s hottest singles went down with our reviewers.


Jorja Smith – ‘Let Me Down’ feat. Stormzy

Al Horner: Jorja Smith says she wrote ‘Let Me Down’ as a Bond theme, for a 007 film that exists only in her imagination. The resulting trembling-lip torch song, about being so devoted to someone you can shrug off even their shittiest of behaviour, aims to reach beyond the fans who adored recent Preditah collab ‘On My Mind’ and leave a more mainstream audience shaken and stirred. Sadly though, this ballad feels a bit too familiar: like the spy series that inspired it, ‘Let Me Down’ struggles to pack new surprises into such a well-worn format. Stormzy abseils in for a brief, solemn verse, the track’s answer to one of Bond’s exploding pens, and while I’m totally up for Smith going after that Adele money, songs like last year’s ‘Teenage Fantasy’ and neo-soul breeze ‘Beautiful Little Fools’ proved Jorja has a license to thrill. I wish this allowed her to use it. (6)

Chal Ravens: Bloody hell, I could barely get through this. Mind-numbingly miserable. (1)

April Clare Welsh: There’s a jazzy maturity to Jorja Smith that worked perfectly on Drake’s More Life, and has led to plenty of people tapping the Walsall wunderkind to usher in an exciting new era for British R&B. On ‘Let Me Down’, she’s going for Adele’s crown, complete with orchestral flourishes, belting vocal runs and emotionally honest lyrics about “meaning very little to someone, but being okay with that, even though it hurts” as she put it in a recent interview. Stormzy turns up on cue to knock a bit of schmaltz out of the song, while reminding us of Jorja’s versatility, but it’s all just a bit too serious for my silly soul. (6)

4.3


Black Eyed Peas – ‘Street Livin”

Chal Ravens: Hey there, it’s the Woke Eyed Peas! It’s funny to think they were all about this hand-wringing “what’s wrong with the world?!” pop in the first place until the lady-lumpin’ Fergie years (‘memba “I’ma get-get-get-get you drunk, get you love drunk off my hump”?). Now, what’s this? They’ve changed the locks on Fergie and transitioned back into the polysyllabic Real Talk, with awkward side of respectability politics (“Niggas killing niggas like they Ku Klux Klan.” Really?). I am going to award a point for introducing me to Brazilian bossa nova band Os Catedráticos, however. (2)

Al Horner: ‘Street Livin’ is a listens-to-Illmatic-once meme brought to life by dark magic like those brooms in Fantasia, guys. I guess you can’t really release a song called ‘Let’s Get Retarded’ in 2018, and Will.i.am and co have got to do *something* with the time their de facto leader isn’t spending inventing the universe’s most useless gadgets, giving the universe’s weirdest interviews or visibly not giving a shit about The Voice. Hence, a post-Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad pivot to raging against the man, man. Woke Eyed Peas (so annoyed you got to that joke before me, Chal) sure seem angry here, but not enough to do any real homework: instead, they complain of C.I.A planes bringing Colombian drugs to America and the pain of Reaganomics, with only a fleeting reference to the General Lee statue at the center of the Charlottesville alt-right rally last year suggesting that ‘Street Livin’ was written in the era of Black Lives Matter, rather than in 1993. But the sentiment is right, and if it’s between this and “I GOT A FEELING!!!! THAT TONIGHT’S GONNA BE A GOOOOD NIGHT!!!!!” repeated ad infinitum, I’m going for ‘Street Livin’ every time. (5)

April Clare Welsh: First things first – it’s hard to believe that this is the same cringe.i.am who did that lame Nescafe Dolce Gusto advert. The prevailing messages here about institutionalised racism and police brutality cannot be denied, of course, but as with all the other former party-starters now aiming for the political jugular, it may just take a little while for it to stick. Four points for the vintage boom bap vibes and that wistful trumpet loop. (4)

3.7


Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake – ‘King’s Dead’

Chal Ravens: Fack! Okay, let me gather myself together again. Isn’t there something just endlessly enjoyable about hearing people rap really fast and really well and really damn CRISP as well? Not to get all backpacker out here, but there’s a fluency and, yeah, a crispness to this track that’s kind of rare in our mumble-rap moment. I had my fingers tightly crossed for James Blake’s hot-like-fire debut verse but I think they forgot about him in the editing or something? Is he actually on here somewhere? Well, an extra point for limited Blakey and another extra point for Future’s momentary “ho-ooh-my-god-that-water’s-cold” voice. On repeat! (8)

Al Horner: “This ain’t what you want, this ain’t what you want,” insists Kendrick at the top of this new cut from the Black Panther soundtrack, clearly not understanding that the DAMN. rapper trading bars with Jay Rock and Future over James Blake beats is exactly what I want, to an almost scientific degree of accuracy. Jay takes top billing here but no surprises who dominates this. The king is alive and well. (8)

April Clare Welsh: Well this is a damn sight livelier than ‘All the Stars’, isn’t it! I was stupidly excited about Black Panther (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t do Marvel) and now I’m even more excited now that I’ve heard Future’s ridiculous cartoon voice, which I can’t stop laughing about. (8)

8


EMA – ‘Dark Shadows’

Chal Ravens: Oh, well hello. I went back to Past Life Martyred Saints just the other day (how has it been nearly SEVEN years?!) and it still stands up, I can confirm. On that album, her throaty, croaky voice was a solid match for the abstract grunge-folk guitars and drums, but when you stick those ’80s drums behind it you get something quite different; I’m reminded of Dave Gahan in his liner ‘n’ leather years. It’s okay, if you’re into stompy, Simple Minds-esque alt-anthems, but it doesn’t have a lot going on. (5)

April Clare Welsh: I’ve been wracking my post-flu mush of a brain to work out the ’80s biguns this song reminded me of and thanks, Chal – it’s Simple Minds. Okay, so this isn’t going to win any prizes for innovation but it’s comforting to see that EMA is still going strong that she’s trying out something slightly different than the drone-folk I associate her with. Apparently ‘Dark Shadows’ was written for a film called 20th Century Women which a quick peruse online tells me didn’t do very well with critics so it’s probably a good thing it didn’t make it onto the soundtrack. (6)

Al Horner: Erika M Anderson has made a career from exploring dark nether regions: of the internet, of the soul and – on last year’s Exile In The Outer Ring – of America. Which makes ‘Dark Shadows’, lifted from a follow-up EP of cutting room floor songs from the Exile sessions, an apt title for an artist who excels in shadowy darkness. This track packs a damaged, haunting Depeche Mode vibe, which is a smart move: she’s off on tour with the synth heroes next month. For someone in exile, the prolific EMA is keeping an active profile. (6)

5.7


Troye Sivian – ‘My My My!’

Al Horner: “Hey, vloggers are a bit fucking creepy,” you’d be welcome to think in 2018, a year in which before I’d so much as recovered from my NYE hangover, I was forced to read about some obnoxious frat bro with a GoPro uploading footage of a dead Japanese man to his YouTube channel in the name of views. Troye Sivian, though – a guy who till now, hasn’t had much of a profile in the UK, but Google tells me is a YouTube star with a thriving music and film career – does his bit to rescue their reputation though with ‘My My My’, a massive pop anthem with a firm LGBTQ message that deserves to be among the year’s biggest chart smashes. (7)

Chal Ravens: Listless focus-group pop that you know darn well would be 100% ignorable if Troye wasn’t in the suddenly highly marketable position of being an out gay pop singer. Cool that this is where we’re at, for sure, but he’s hardly the first gay pop star and I can think of literally dozens of others throughout pop history who’ve made significantly more interesting music. When pop is so often about finding the commercial potential in transgression, it’s interesting to see this generation of young, gay, mainstream pop singers (Sam Smith, in particular) finding an angle in being pretty darn vanilla, actually. (3)

April Clare Welsh: Kicking off 2018 with a viral hit celebrating gay love is absolutely the way this year is meant to go but I’m with Chal – this song just isn’t very interesting. There are plenty of queer artists out there making music that’s subversive and exciting but ‘My My My!’ pongs of commercial marketability and it’s eclipsing the banger-o-meter. It doesn’t need to be that way. Put away your vapes and let’s shake things up again. (3)

4.3


Kali Uchis – ‘After The Storm’ feat. Bootsy Collins and Tyler, The Creator

Al Horner: I keep waiting for Kali Uchis to blow up: she certainly has the right people fighting her corner, with Tyler, The Creator, Diplo, Jorja Smith, Kaytranada and Gorillaz among her collaborators to date and a Lana Del Rey tour on the horizon. The sweet, dreamy ‘After The Storm’, featuring Tyler and a joyously ad libbing Bootsy Collins, might not be the track that tips her into the mainstream, but it is an enjoyable drift of soulful synths and echoes that will keep her star on the rise. (7)

Chal Ravens: The cut on Tyler’s Flower Boy album featuring Kali Uchis was one of my favourites of last year, and this seems to be a companion track (with a lyrical reference in the intro, too). Her voice is brilliant, it has the feathery, jazzy nonchalance of Minnie Riperton but with a husk that makes her a strong match for Tyler’s guttural introspection. Also enjoying those wobbly, post-Connan Mockasin guitars, which seem to be popping up in various hip-hop/R&B tracks lately (Kendrick’s ‘Pride’ being the prime example). And imagine being able to put “feat. Bootsy Collins” on your track, WTF. Yes yes yes yes yes. (8)

April Clare Welsh: Apparently Kali recently met the whole of the Bootsy clan on their ranch in Ohio and you can only imagine what kind of fun that would entail! This song certainly bottles that fun while paying its dues to the psychedelic soul of Parliament-Funkadelic. This kind of sultry retro groove suits her voice so well. (8)

7.7


Final scores:

Final scores:
Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake – ‘King’s Dead’ (8)
Kali Uchis – ‘After The Storm’ feat. Bootsy Collins and Tyler, The Creator (7.7)
EMA – ‘Dark Shadows’ (5.7)
Jorja Smith – ‘Let Me Down’ feat. Stormzy (4.3)
Troye Sivian – ‘My My My!’ (4.3)
Black Eyed Peas – ‘Street Livin’ (3.7)

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