Review of Raye – The Pleasant Sound of Retribution

Estimated read time 6 min read

Raye’s voice rises in pitch without any instrumental accompaniment, and then she quickly sings a series of notes. The singer-songwriter from south London holds a note for an impressively long time before fixing her hair. She also mentions that if she’s adjusting something under her skirt, it’s just her microphone pack getting sweaty. Raye apologizes to the audience in case her nipple accidentally shows in her corset dress, joking that there are apps to fix photos.

The evening’s theme is honesty, and Rachel Keen, a glamorous pop star, has a knack for captivating the room by discussing nerdy details or sharing industry secrets. She takes pleasure in her control over her drummer, Matt Brooks, who must hit the percussion in sync with her arm movements. She points out that she could even be scratching her head or doing ballet. She also praises her guitarist, Paul Murray, who leads the band and patiently accommodates her gestures that cue the band to dramatically come in on point.

Raye’s lineup of songs is filled with honesty as well. Many of the tracks performed tonight feature Keen reflecting on intense emotional moments from her recent experiences. She expresses her annoyance with the music industry in the direct and concise tune, “Hard Out Here.” In “Body Dysmorphia,” she reveals that it’s not about seeking compliments, as external validation rarely has an impact on the condition.

The most striking topic of conversation is centered on the unedited Ice Cream Man, which involves a producer’s sexual assault. The word “rape” carries a weighty presence in the room. It is disheartening, she concludes, that women feel ashamed to label the event that occurred to them, as the shame should be placed on the perpetrator.

Combining elements of group therapy and retro jazz-pop, the band, dressed in white suits and dickie bows, takes the stage for Raye’s My 21st Century Blues tour. This portion of the tour feels like a personalized celebration of success. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Raye has already savored many courses of vindication.

“I have finished being a courteous pop star,” she posted on Twitter in 2021. Due to her restrictive contract with a major record label that did not align with her goals, Raye’s versatile guest vocals propelled her to success as a featured artist on dance-pop hits, including “You Don’t Know Me” with Jax Jones in 2017. Tonight, she performs it with a mix of melancholy and obligation.

Her talent for writing songs was used to help other artists, including the famous Beyoncé. (Raye helped write the song “Bigger” for The Lion King soundtrack.) While her nine-track EP, Euphoric Sad Songs (2020), showcased her ability to create emotionally compelling solo work, her record label Polydor continued to delay the release of her debut album. Raye is not alone in this situation of being trapped in a luxurious but restrictive contract, chasing success in any genre possible; the journey from new artist to established one often takes years. Sometimes, women take matters into their own hands. Charli XCX slowly dipped in and out of mainstream success for many years. Little Simz, after achieving success with Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, fired her manager in 2022. (The counter-argument is that rushing a new artist to market prematurely may result in them being dropped abruptly if they don’t meet expectations.)

Raye believed that Polydor had valuable potential, as she expresses in her song Hard Out Here. Therefore, she publicly parted ways with them and became an independent artist. In no time, she achieved a No 1 hit with Escapism, a powerful track about using partying as a means to cope with heartbreak. Her first album, My 21st Century Blues, released in 2023, delved into themes such as being silenced by record executives, self-medicating, and other raw subjects. It received well-deserved comparisons to Amy Winehouse due to Raye’s authentic and soulful style, encompassing jazz, hip-hop, and R&B elements. The album peaked at No 2 on the charts. In 2020, Raye headlined a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall accompanied by an orchestra and gospel choir.

One year after her album was released, it seems that Raye’s celebration is not limited to just one course, but also includes a cheese course, dessert wine, chocolate bonbons, and a digestif. Her album, My 21st Century Blues, has received an impressive seven Brit nominations. The awards ceremony on March 2nd will be highly anticipated as viewers wait to see how many she will win.

Originally planned for December, Raye was instructed to take a break from singing, causing her to reschedule this brief tour in the UK. The tour will culminate in a show at London’s O2 arena in March, where she will once again showcase her orchestral talents to a crowd of 20,000. It seems that tickets were in high demand, as they sold out within an hour.

This is the sound of someone indulging in their bonbons and savoring each bite. In the middle of her performance, without her band, Raye heads to the piano to play some fan-requested songs from before her album was released. She admits to feeling a little embarrassed about some of these songs. There are also some parts that feel a bit filler-like. For example, in “Buss It Down,” Raye has the audience sing along in three-part harmony, but it goes on for a bit too long. It’s puzzling why she would participate in a flashy display of wealth and status after leaving behind mindless dance tracks. In “Prada,” featuring Cassö and D-Block Europe, she performs it solo.

In the end, the mix of puzzles and long, drawn-out moments is offset by an abundance of truly great songs, including “Black Mascara,” a catchy club track with a heart-wrenching theme. One of the standout moments of the night is when Raye fully embraces her role as a woman scorned in “Hard Out Here,” belting out the powerful line, “No weapon formed against me shall ever prosper.” The show reaches its peak with “Escapism,” a raw and intense performance where Raye’s pain is palpable and her band provides a strong, heavy sound. She still has the upper hand in seeking revenge.


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