Release Date: Nov 17, 2009
Record label: Sony
The goal of Leona Lewis' 2007 debut, Spirit, was to prove that an X Factor winner could be a phenomenon not just in the U.K., but in the rest of the world. The goal of her second album, 2009's Echo, is to prove that success was no fluke, to build upon "Bleeding Love" and turn Lewis into an actual diva. Certainly, Echo in any of its incarnations -- its song listings are tailored for individual markets, with the U.K.
In 2007, for the release of Leona Lewis's first album, Sony conjured a persuasive aura of instant class around a singer who in plain view of more than 10 million X Factor viewers had clearly been a Pizza Hut waitress less than 18 months earlier. The carefully stage-managed ascent to diva status involved a succession of impressive frocks but the centrepiece was Bleeding Love, a modern standard with international appeal which allowed Simon Cowell to present Leona to American audiences as the UK's new sensation; then, when America took the bait, he reinvigorated her UK profile by trumpeting her phenomenal US success. Unusually for an X Factor graduate, there was actually something at risk if the second album didn't work, but Echo hits its target.
Leona Lewis and her millions of sales are a good thing for the British music industry, but not necessarily for British music. The idea that we finally have a homegrown Kelly Clarkson/Jordin Sparks is hardly cause for celebration if it means the next generation of UK female singers believes her ponderous, heavily ornamented style is what they should be emulating. Echo's 13 tracks, which were co-written by Justin Timberlake, One Republic's Ryan Tedder and other costly names, follow the formula of her debut: the slow, piano-accented build-up, punctuated by sharp intakes of breath and vocal curlicues, then the climactic explosion as the drums crash in and she hits the chorus.
Leona Lewis has a voice like a monolith; a shiny, towering monument to perfect sound. But it can be difficult to connect with the woman who wields it, even with the help of pop-chart pros like Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, and Justin Timberlake. Too much of Echo is mired in soppy balladry and standard-issue dancery that seem meant to be consumed with a box of drugstore Chablis.
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