REVIEW: Rita Ora fails to find voice on party anthem-filled ‘Phoenix’

British pop singer Rita Ora returns to the music scene with “Phoenix,” her second studio album. (Photo courtesy of Atlantic Records UK)

Everybody seems to have heard Rita Ora’s name, but nobody seems to know from where. Whether one’s familiarity with the British singer and actress comes from her 2014 chart-topper “I Will Never Let You Down” or her small role in the “Fifty Shades” sequels or her role of host on “America’s Next Top Model,” it is clear that the artist’s talent is multifaceted. On Friday, Ora released “Phoenix,” her second studio album after a six-year hiatus.

About half of the songs on “Phoenix” have had radio play over the past 18 months, with “For You (feat. Liam Payne)” being promoted for the movie “Fifty Shades Freed” and “Your Song” hitting the charts in May 2017.

Despite her endeavors as a model and actress, Ora seems determined to keep music at the forefront of her career with “Phoenix.”

Like her  album’s namesake, Ora metaphorically rises from the ashes on “Phoenix.” The album represents her newly reclaimed  power and freedom as an artist, and was created while Ora fought a long legal battle with her former record label Roc Nation.

Rather than depicting a complete reformation of Ora’s past music, the album is a continuation of her previous sound.

With bubbly pop melodies and colorful synths, the tracks on “Phoenix” depict the dark underbelly of Ora’s party girl image — not just the carefree, dancing queen her public persona portrays. On “New Look,” Ora reveals her insecurities about being left behind for someone better. In “Let You Love Me,” her personality is guarded and her walls are up. And on the previously criticized “Girls (feat. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX),” Ora announces her bisexuality, which she now publicly embraces.

The production value of the album outweighs the lyrical content, which make for a pleasant listen but result in few takeaways. The message Ora tries to impart through her music gets lost in an attempt at bubblegum pop.

Ora’s range of breathy and full vocals complement the bold beats and instrumentation underlying her tracks.

On certain tracks, such as “Keep Talking (feat. Julia Michaels),” Ora  is at her best — showcasing her sultry side with mesmerizing synths and airy vocals.

But “Phoenix” lacks lyrical substance; Ora’s songs can be reduced to generic pop anthems about love, heartbreak and the troubles of fame.

With plenty of features, “Phoenix” is a musical representation of a night out with friends and just like any good night out, the album feels a little hazy once fully digested.

While sonically cohesive, the album’s message lacks power and edge. Considering Ora’s abrasive but confident voice on social media, “Phoenix” lacks the empowering aggression or inspiration that fans expect in her music.

Ora doesn’t necessarily sound confident on this record either. Rather, she seems to be coping with a past self with whom she finally comes to terms. A lack of confidence can be a relatable and, sometimes empowering admission in pop — such as in Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” or Taylor Swift’s “Delicate.” But, on “Phoenix,” Ora’s uncertain approach to her party girl persona only serves to alienate her listeners.

Hopefully fans won’t have to wait another six years for Ora’s  next album, because hopefully it will be more impactful. On “Phoenix,” Ora is still finding her voice as an artist. While the upbeat melodies ensure that these songs will be party hits,  none of the album’s tracks are distinctive of her style. As a whole, “Phoenix” is an album for a night out — not one that will be remembered in the morning.