There are moments here that would give even the most jaded listener goosebumps.
Released: 8th June 2018
Two songs were all it took to raise Jorja Smith from underground R&B star to a mainstream phenomenon last year, upstaging Drake on his own album/mixtape/whatever it is. After the release of ‘More Life’, Jorja Smith live shows went from modestly attended by day one fans to sold-out spectacles. It was a leap to prominence that had been a long time coming.
Since releasing the devastatingly pointed ‘Blue Lights’ at the start of 2016, Smith has captured the spirit of teenage life in Britain. It’s the soundtrack to sitting on the swings of your local park, setting the world to rights one cigarette and pack of tinnies at a time.
‘Lost & Found’ is very much like what came before. Honest and critical yet still fuelled by optimism that things will get better, all carried by Smith’s staggeringly emotional vocals. It’s the first time in a long time where it feels like the realities of teenage life has been properly represented, rather than a saccharine ideal.
‘Teenage Fantasy’ sets this stage out well, as Smith sings ‘When we are young / we all want someone / who we think is the one / just to fit in’. There’s no looking back at those formative years with rose-tinted glasses here. Smith is more concerned with pulling back the curtain to reveal the grimy side of life.
Oddly, it feels a lot like Arctic Monkeys’ debut ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ in that sense. Turner’s down and dirty portrayal of Sheffield, bombing about in taxis and trying to sneak into clubs, represented a disaffected youth with very few prospects; the reality of life in the post-Thatcher North. Smith takes a different view of the issue, specifically the black experience in London, but the spirit is much the same.
There’s something of a naivety to some of Smith’s lyrics, particularly on ‘Blue Lights’ with lines like ‘I wanna turn those blue lights/into strobe lights’. On a song about institutionalised racism within the police, targeting black youths who’ve done nothing wrong, it could sound a little flippant and pie in the sky. But then, taken in the context of the whole album, echoing that teenage experience of wanting to solve the world’s problems but not having the power to do so, it works. It’s a frustration echoed in lines like ‘they say we’re too young to get the job done’ from the album’s title track ‘Lost & Found’.
Smith does veer into the somewhat generic romantic territory after a while, however. Similar themes and ideas crop up in an almost repetitive manner. Tracks like ‘The One’ or ‘On Your Own’ feel like trite Adele-style ballads, ‘The One’ only bolstered by some excellent production featuring a beautiful string section.
But then tracks like ‘Goodbyes’ and ‘Tomorrow’, which let Smith’s vocals truly shine, remind you just why she deserves the attention she gets. Her’s is a voice that isn’t overly showy. There are no dramatic runs or diva moments. It all feels grounded and emotionally authentic, as though her voice is about to crack as she bittersweetly sings ‘It’ll all make sense tomorrow’. It’s not surprising, then, to learn that Smith would often duck into corners of the shop where she worked to quickly record snippets on her phone.
While ‘Lost & Found’ is most successful when diving into the realities of being a British teenager today, Smith’s most consistent weapon is her voice. There are moments here that would give even the most jaded listener goosebumps. Even the cliche pitfalls that she sometimes falls into are somewhat thrown by the wayside because it’s all delivered by these earnest and affecting vocals. Here, there’s honesty and naivety, tender emotions and youthful optimism. It’s the sound of someone who actually understands what it is to be a teenager; that feeling of being both lost and found. Chris Taylor