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by Rita Ora
feat. Tinie Tempah

Despite its demonstrable unit-shifting capabilities, it was all I could do to keep my finger off the Skip button while auditioning this exceptionally bland production. Any life that might have remained in the mechanically programmed drums has been smooshed out of them at the mastering stage; mushy synth layers complacently go through the motions, draped around unimaginative harmony; and there’s scant arrangement interest beyond a bit of fader/mute juggling. Despite all that, though, I couldn’t help smiling at one corner of the main hook lyric, because of the neat way it plays with your expectations. The first phrase (0:02-0:14) begins with Rita Ora spelling out “R.I.P.”, so when the second phrase recaps the same melody at 1:15, there’s a momentary impression that she’s started another acronym “I.D…”, when in fact the lyric actually continues “I decided…”.

It was so diverting that I almost listened to the song twice.

Quips aside, what I do notice is the way the lead vocal’s high level only reinforces my impression that the backing sounds small. Everyone has a pretty clear idea of how loud a voice is naturally, so if it’s mixed much louder than the backing in a mix, it tends to suggest that the rest of the backing sound is less loud than a single voice.

With live recorded instruments, the illusion can be partly restored by the performance intensity of the backing musicians – they can give the impression that they’re loud via the enthusiasm of their playing and the tonal changes this elicits from their instruments. With electronic instruments, though, it’s trickier to do this, even with the usual tricks of wide stereo, long delays, and big ambiences, all of which are on display here.

(And, speaking of stereo, check out how those synths suffer in mono, which only serves to exacerbate the vocal level issue.)