If you’re a fan of great music, you must have heard of Raye. The London-based singer-songwriter has had an eventful journey so far – from being shortlisted for the BBC Sound of… to silver, gold, and platinum tracks to peaking on the UK Charts, Raye has released banger after banger. The problem? Her former label Polydor refused her to publish a full-length album, which ultimately led the songstress to a lengthy Twitter confession in 2021. Fast forward, and Raye, now an independent artist, has finally unveiled her long-awaited debut album, My 21st Century Blues, and what a debut it is!
The project arrives just after Raye’s hit “Escapism” reached number 1 in the charts, and unless you’ve lived under a rock or still refuse to download TikTok, you are probably aware of the impact the infectious track has had on social media and beyond. Trip-hop influenced and 070 Shake-assisted, “Escapism” already gave us an intriguing taste of what we could expect – more songs that showcase the singer’s undeniably raw talent.
The album’s intro is off to a luring start as we hear a host introducing Raye to an excited crowd, and immediately follows up with the strong “Oscar Winning Tears”, which, with the opening lyrics “Please get nice and comfortable and lock your phones, Because the story is about to begin”, is setting the stage about the the themes and topics the singer is about to address in her album.
Whether you expect soulful vocals, both catchy and smooth melodies, and thought-provoking lyrics, or elements of R&B, pop, blues and jazz – you will find it on this record. One of the stand-out tracks is the synth-laden “Black Mascara,” the only dance track on the album – it again showcases Raye’s capability of creating tracks that are destined to become club bangers. But, true to the theme of the album, it’s a dancefloor hit with a sad twist as it, with lyrics “You made your bed (made your bed) / Lied your lies (lied your lies) / And fucked my mind up”, tackles a story of how she has once again been misled.
Another track that stood out, sonically completely different from “Black Mascara,” is “Mary Jane.” A bluesy song, it really highlights Raye’s rich and versatile vocal range. Touching on drug (“Mandy, dear / Oh, when I met you, we had quite the year / You showed me love so pure, so strong / Then left me in bed so alone / You’re a stone cold bitch in the morning, aren’t you?”) and alcohol abuse (“Mmm, red wine / You always gave me the best advice” – lyrics which are linked to her story in “Escapism”), Raye speaks up about how the likes of ecstacy, cocaine and wine may seem like a great idea in the moment but the after effects always catch up with her in the morning after all, despite soothing her pain for a while. Accompanied with smooth guitar riffs, it almost reminds of a classic Amy Winehouse track.
The album is stacked with songs about love, heartbreak, and self-discovery while navigating through dark sides of the music industry. “Ice Cream Man,” for example, is a brutally honest and vulnerable ballad in which Raye speaks up about the times she was sexually assaulted by a music producer – something that is unfortunately way too common in the industry. With lyrics such as “It took a while to understand what my consent means / If I was ruthless, they’d be in the penitentiary / But all the stress of being honest wouldn’t help me,” she illustrates how painfully helpless the assaults can make someone feel. The chorus, however, is all about empowerment as she rightfully sings “I’m a very fucking brave, strong woman / And I’ll be damned if I let a man ruin”.
Overall, My 21st Century Blues is a must-listen, not just for her fans. The project is a testament to Raye’s immense talent, her multi-faceted artistry, and hard work over the course of her career. With the artist’s brilliantly introspective storytelling that will have listeners hooked from the beginning, captivating melodies and stunning vocals, this debut has truly turned out be an enormous, hugely well-deserved success.