RAYE closes her debut album by thanking her nearest and dearest. Celebrating the friends, family and collaborators who supported the making of the record, she explains on ‘Fin’: “I’ve waited seven years for this moment, and finally ‘My 21st Century Blues’ is now out forever.”
It also marks the culmination of the arduous battle the 25-year-old has faced to release her first full-length album. After releasing her debut EP ‘Welcome To The Winter’ in 2014, RAYE penned a deal with Polydor the same year aged 17. Since then, there have been further solo releases (including several EPs and 2020 mini-album ‘Euphoric Sad Songs’), collaborations with chart-dominating dance whizzes (Jax Jones, David Guetta, Disclosure) and co-writes for the likes of Beyoncé and Mabel. Yet RAYE’s own debut album failed to materialise, and, by June 2021, she’d had enough. “I have been on a FOUR-ALBUM RECORD DEAL since 2014! And [I] haven’t been allowed to put out one album,” she tweeted. “I’m done being a polite pop star. I want to make my album now, please that is all I want.” Three weeks later, she got her wish: “Today, I am speaking to you as an independent artist,” she told her Twitter followers.
Since then, RAYE has been releasing music that feels unapologetically her own. There’s the electrifying, affirmative ‘Hard Out Here’, which sees the singer take aim at the patriarchal music industry: “All the white men CEOs, fuck your privilege / Get your pink chubby hands off my mouth, fuck you think this is?” The euphoric ‘Black Mascara’, meanwhile, demonstrates RAYE’s knack for penning floor-filling dance hits, albeit by switching things up from her previous club anthems by coupling darker, bubbling beats with devastating lyrics (“I’m here now fucked up, thinking this why I’m out here sinking in these dark nights“).
The album’s real triumph, though, is the trip-hop-influenced, 070 Shake-featuring ‘Escapism’. The slinky single first dropped in October before gradually climbing the charts, hitting the summit last month to give RAYE her first UK Number One single. “As tough as it’s been, in the darkest of times, it’s the ultimate validation,” she told NME of the victory.
The rest of ‘My 21st Century Blues’ follows suit from these lead singles. Gritty, honest lyrics, delivered by RAYE’s gorgeous voice, are paired with weird and wonderful genre-spanning instrumentals. ‘Oscar Winning Tears’ is a searing takedown of a crumbling, toxic relationship that’s built upon swooning strings and cinematic piano licks that support its creator’s powerhouse voice. The stripped-back ‘Mary Jane’ transports you to a jazzy speakeasy through its biting guitar riffs and subtle rhythm section, while the funk-laced ‘Worth It’ could be a lost Silk Sonic track. The brass-heavy ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ is an excellent modern soul offering, its lush instrumental arrangements evoking Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’.
Lyrically, RAYE doesn’t pull any punches. ‘Environmental Anxiety’, which borrows spaced-out production tricks from Coldplay, sees her sing: “Come on kids, it’s time to vote / Boris Johnson’s sniffing coke / All the children are depressed / Not the future we had hoped.” ‘Body Dysmorphia’ tackles her own difficult relationship with her body, while ballad ‘Ice Cream Man’ is a brutally honest account of an abuse of power where RAYE recounts her experience of sexual assault at the hands of a producer: “And I was 7, was 21, was 17, and was 11 / It took a while to understand what my consent means.”
RAYE recently said that such bold and brave declarations wouldn’t have been released had she still been signed to a major label. Granted her creative independence, though, the hard-fought ‘My 21st Century Blues’ is unequivocally RAYE from start to finish.
Release date: February 3
Record label: RAYE / Human Re Sources