This Thursday is the Mercury Music Prize, with the winner chosen from the shortlist of twelve nominated albums. As part of the prize's remit is to "recognise and celebrate artistic achievement...and to help introduce new albums from a range of music genres to a wider audience", we thought it would be interesting to get our writers to "live review" a nominated record they had yet to listen to, noting down their thoughts in real time. The Mercury First Listen Reviews are the result.
Harriet Linnell on Jorja Smith's Lost & Found
Jorja Smith has been the name everyone has been talking about this year, and one of the more intriguing acts on the Mercury Prize shortlist. Smith’s rise to this point could almost be called stratospheric, from the sure-fire stamp of approval provided by the Brits Critics’ Choice Award, to collaborations with Drake and Stormzy. I was excited to hear what everyone had been talking about on her debut album Lost & Found, having had my head buried in the sand for so long.
‘Lost & Found’
The opening track begins in an almost haunting twist. After about a minute I start wondering what’s going to happen next. The first verse kicks in around 1.30, creating a calming, relaxed feeling. Her voice is beautiful but so expressive too, and so assured which I love. The song is a whole mixed bag of feelings thrown in together, making for a really fantastic opener.
Love the piano notes in the opening here. Sound effects make the vocals sound far away and add to the elements of caution which surround the track. “We all want a teenage fantasy / Want it when we can’t have it / When we’ve got it we don’t seem to want it” describes the fickle nature of Smith’s feelings, with the build to the chorus creating an increasing sense of urgency and panic. The repeat of these lyrics in the outro adds to the mellow mix of seriousness and complacency in this track.
‘Where Did I Go?’
Love the low-fi approach to the intro which highlights Smith’s vocal. Together with the dissonant piano in the chorus, it contributes to the overall melancholy and questioning feeling of the song, and is very cleverly put together.
Opening with heavy beats, the song starts off understated and continues in that vein. This track is okay but not in the same league as the others. Quite repetitive and maybe a bit average. When is this song over again? The spoken word at the end about constantly finding yourself doesn’t add much.
‘On Your Own’
The vocals in the first verse are almost drowned out by a heavy electronic drum kit. The song’s overall message is about strength and independence in the aftermath of the end of a relationship. I love the echo effect in the bridge.
Lana Del Rey-esque violins swell during the intro, setting the scene for Smith’s earnest delivery of “ There are choosers, there are takers / There's beggin', heartbreakers / I don't wanna be that way”. I really like this one; there’s a lot of passion in Smith’s expressiveness here, and fantastic use of instrumentation.
I don’t like the interruptive edit of the guy talking and I can’t understand what he’s saying! But there’s really good differentiation in all the sections of the song, there’s a different mood for every moment. The chorus peaks during the lyrics “Take it how you got me now / After breaking down my heart”, with flowering harmonies showcasing the heart of Smith’s talent, hinting at her strength in the uncertain situation described in the song.
I think I might have heard this one before, but I love the concept of turning “blue lights” into other kinds of lights as an analogy for alleviating the panic of the present moment. I love the recycling of Dizzee Rascal’s lyrics from ‘Sirens’. The haunting backing music is almost horror music-esque. This is a real departure from the subject matter of the album to this point, but it’s a welcome change. This song is really exceptional, maybe the best on the album yet.
This is a really interesting one with astute political commentary but it’s more of a light relief/ interlude than a standalone song. It’s enjoyable all the same.
Really like this one, it’s a fantastic showcase of Smith’s stunning vocal range. It’s nothing groundbreaking lyrically, but a beautiful delivery of a simple message and very peaceful. A tiny bit obsessed with the chorus, and the melody is so refreshing that it sounds like it could be improvised.
The lyrics are incredibly emotive and the song is the embodiment of the slick, bound-up, and complete nature of Smith’s songwriting – everything feels very finished and final. I find the melody in the chorus to be a bit repetitive but I love the constant refrain of: “It will all make sense tomorrow”.
‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’
Swiftly into the final track. From the first moment, you can tell that the song is very raw and poignant. The song is incredibly listenable, with lyrics with lines which jump out at you like little electric shocks. The quiet backing allows for Smith’s voice to shine in the best way possible. A really wonderful close to a great album – I hope it wins!
For more information about Jorja Smith, please visit her official website.