“How did you know I love Where’s Wally?” cries Rita Ora. Smokin’-hot face obscured by a fan’s gift, she’s thankfully buzzing too hard in the week of her debut album’s release to mark the irony of the paper Wally mask she’s wearing. Many have noted the similarities between the last of her three consecutive Number Ones, the Notorious BIG-referencing ‘How We Do (Party)’ and Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night (TGIF)’; one wag tonight yells out “We love you, Rihanna!” So where’s Rita’s own identity? If it’s not always in the songs, the Jay-Z protege’s bounding, boundless energy is mostly enough to pull clear of heard-it-before anonymity.
The best stuff is the hardest - while she never quite fulfils the promise of shouty opener ‘Facemelt’, her first release, the DJ Fresh collaboration ‘Hot Right Now’, is irresistibly argy-bargy, while ‘RIP’ shares both producers and its dark bassiness with ‘Rated R’-era Rihanna. Ora lacks Rihanna’s increasingly desperate ‘edginess’ though, all beaming smiles and 100-per-cent-irony-free attempts to tell us about her ‘journey’ (her Kosovar Albanian family fled the beginnings of the Balkan war when she was one, transplanting to West London where she ended up at Sylvia Young Theatre school, and, via a Eurovision attempt and some Drake video cameos, signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label). Her neon-daubed stage-set looks like a dystopian sci-fi themed ’80s youth club, and the beanie hat and glittery puffa jacket in which she closes the show, hammering on a drum during the Neneh Cherry-ish ‘Uneasy’, owe more to Ora’s stated idol Gwen Stefani than RiRi’s barbed-wire bras. She’s sweet.
And yet, from glimpses on the likes of the steely ‘Love And War’ and the powerful ballad ‘Hello, Hi, Goodbye’, you can’t help but think that given such a voice, such a face, and the three years it took to make her debut (“two to find myself and one to record it” she’s said), you could cook up something more distinctive. Mind you, the charge of being just another identikit pop singer was laid at the doors of both Katy Perry and Jessie J, now two of the world’s biggest pop acts; Ora’s infectious spirit is strong enough to break through the more by-the-numbers moments on her debut and make her more than just another face in the pop crowd.