After a six-year gap between albums -- during which time she was involved in a drawn-out legal back-and-forth with her former label -- English-Albanian singer Rita Ora finally issued her sophomore effort, the aptly titled Phoenix. Despite the behind-the-scenes drama that threatened to derail her burgeoning career, Ora maintained public presence with a series of well-performing singles, many of which are included here. Much like contemporary releases from Jess Glynne and Dua Lipa, the strength of Ora's effortless, R&B-inspired vocals carries Phoenix, despite varying musical styles and recording periods, which stretched over two years from 2016 to 2018. As its on-the-nose title suggests, Phoenix is duly triumphant and uplifting with nary a dud to be found on this set. The purest pop moments arrive in the form of the effervescent "Let You Love Me"; the Ed Sheeran-penned "Your Song"; and her chart-topping duet with Liam Payne, "For You," from the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack. Meanwhile, electronic anthems with collaborators Alesso (the uplifting "Anywhere"), Rudimental (the skittering "Summer Love"), and Avicii ("Lonely Together," originally found on the late producer's AVĪCI ) amplify the album's brightness and energy. Fellow pop singer Julia Michaels appears on "Keep Talking," but it's the star-studded (and controversial) "Girls" that delivers the album's big, bold statement, recruiting Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX on a saucy, sex-positive anthem for the 21st century. Considering for a moment that a second album's existence was in limbo for years, Phoenix could have opted to coast by on its harrowing backstory alone. And still, Ora delivered a confident pop gem that stands tall on its own.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung