REVIEW: "Euphoric Sad Songs," the debut album from singer-songwriter RAYE
My introduction to RAYE was about as memorable as any burgeoning pop star could hope for. She featured on the opening track to Charli XCX’s underrated mixtape masterpiece Number 1 Angel in 2016. “Dreamer” is a standout song on a standout project in large part due to the sexy, confident vocals traded by Charli, RAYE, and rapper Starrah. Since then, RAYE has released a slew of singles and EPs, but no album. However, as of November 20th, that has changed. Euphoric Sad Songs is a landmark in RAYE’s career thus far and, at only 23 years old, shows great promise despite a few minor fumbles.
To get the negatives out of the way, the two songs that introduce us to the album, “Love Me Again” and “Change Your Mind,” are by far the least interesting tracks on the whole project. They drip with modern top 40 flourishes that feel as if they’ve been copy pasted from a beginner pop production pack on Splice (and maybe they were, who knows!). This is hardly what I’ve come to expect from RAYE; she normally straddles the line between melodic hip-hop and house music. Some of this can be heard on “Change Your Mind,” especially in the woozy vocal production, but neither track does much to grab attention. They do a disservice to the rest of the album, refusing to grant any sort of initiative to continue to listen. I was expecting a bland project based off of these first seven minutes, but that’s genuinely not the case.
The following two tracks are the most popular singles of the bunch. While I respect the decision to place these closer to the middle of the album, they would’ve been the stronger openers. “Regardless” is a catchy Rudimental collab that suits RAYE’s vocals, but lacks any real feeling. “Secrets,” a collab with Regard, is much better, showcasing RAYE’s suitability to house-influenced production. Though not technically RAYE’s track (it was originally released as a Regard single), it fits on the album well and I’m glad it’s there. I lived in Chicago for a while and developed a real appreciation for house music while there, so any house hitting the charts is a positive.
If we were to break the album up into three parts, it would be as such: The boring openers, the club-worthy singles, and the quieter, hidden gems. The last five songs on the record allow RAYE to exhibit more of who she really is as an artist; sexy, funny, and capable of real emotional depth. The best of these are “Natalie Don’t,” a “Jolene”-referencing “don’t take my man” R&B track, and “Walk On By,” a lushly produced bop that feels like a summer day.
That being said, the other three tracks are each interesting in their own way. “All Dressed Up” is a pretty ballad that lets RAYE show off her vocals. Though it isn’t a stand-out by any means, the record wouldn’t have felt complete without a ballad, as entangled as it is with themes of romance, break ups, and new love. “Please Don’t Touch” works within the house framework that Regard opened up for her. It’s not as layered as “Secrets” and the chorus eventually grows tiresome, but it’s nice to see RAYE explore different sounds consistently as opposed to fitting ten genres into one album to please various Spotify playlist algorithms. Closer track “Love of Your Life” ties everything up neatly enough, ending on a high note. Though the title of the record promises sad songs, this is a happy, silly song about what RAYE sees herself like in a relationship. Considering all of the songs about love lost that came before it, it feels like a cleanse has taken place over the course of the record so that RAYE (and her listener) can begin a new, more promising relationship.
It’s not groundbreaking on a wider scope, but Euphoric Sad Songs is a triumphant first record for RAYE. Despite the opening tracks not capturing my attention, the rest of the record is worth checking out for any devoted fan of pop music. It never quite hits the sugary highs of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, but it captures a similar sense of sass and fun regardless of its subject matter. For those looking for a more traditional, glossy pop experience, this is the one.
McKinzie Smith is a former film student from Portland, OR. In her adolescence, she followed Fall Out Boy up and down the West Coast. She now considers herself very cool and normal and only a little bit emo. She now spends most of her time listening to Charli XCX in her kitchen and writing articles about things she likes.