wears the trousers magazine

leona lewis: echo (2009)
November 18, 2009, 10:24 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: ,

Leona Lewis
Echo ••••

As another series of ‘X Factor’ ekes towards its conclusion and inevitable Christmas number one, another alumnus returns to remind the contestants what a little luck and lot of savvy marketing can get them. While some might view the recent chart successes from 2008 winner Alexandra Burke and mentor Cheryl Cole as having upstaged Leona Lewis’s comeback a little, the North Londoner has one thing that neither possess. For all Burke’s blasting and Cole’s ambitious wheeze, they can’t come close to her supple and powerful voice, or the impeccable control with which she wields it. Coupled with an extremely photogenic face and a sanguine, pleasant personality, Lewis has become one of British pop’s brightest stars, not least by virtue of having achieved the holy grail of pop: success in America.

Still with something to prove, however, it’s to her credit that Echo is a far more sturdy and cohesive affair than 2007’s ballad-heavy and somewhat patchy Spirit, boasting a more modern and uptempo feel that should help to break Lewis’s image as a fragile, wailing balladeer. Things kick off brilliantly with first single ‘Happy’, penned by the same writers behind her global hit ‘Bleeding Love’ (and perhaps bearing an uncomfortable sonic similarity to said hit), a more lyrically complex affair that suggests there might be something slightly darker lurking under that pristine façade. Lush synthesised strings and piano sweep under her voice before the big drums and backing vocals lead into the Huge Chorus, establishing a template of quiet piano-led verses with stadium-sized refrain underpinned by drums that’s reused again and again on the album (echoing through Echo, if you will), the wide open arrangements and expansive beats adding to the large, organic sound implied by the album’s title.

Echo gets most interesting when Lewis steps outside of her comfort zone; the Max Martin-produced ‘Outta My Head’, for instance, plunges into a sonic world that is alien to Lewis’s (admittedly tiny) oeuvre, delivering an electro-pop dance anthem that punches through the stuffiness of Spirit with a fiercely contemporary bridge that would be more at home in a Britney Spears album. The shimmering guitars, hiccupping beats and hyperventilating chorus of ‘I Got You’ also stand out, as do the falsetto chorus and sparse synth arrangements of ‘Can’t Breathe’ and the Persian-sounding strings and beats which introduce ‘Brave’, one of several songs that Lewis co-wrote. ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, her collaboration with Justin Timberlake, is one of Echo‘s highlights from a songwriting perspective. There’s no faulting the vocal performance either as Lewis makes the most of Timberlake’s unmistakable falsetto and tight harmonies, but the slightly anachronistic and clunky R&B pretensions let it down a little, harking back to a late ’90s Brandy.

The few guitar-pop excursions are less becoming of Lewis’s talents, with the Kristian Lundin co-write ‘Naked’ the worst offender, so it’s a relief when her cover of Oasis’s ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ reveals itself to be a shimmering, comparatively restrained outing. It doesn’t come close to the magical facelift she previously gave to Snow Patrol’s ‘Run’, but it’s a fairly leftfield song choice and she does it justice. Songwriting stalwart John Shanks acquits himself well with ‘Alive’; the type of ballad we’d expect from Kelly Clarkson, it boasts a huge swooping chorus and gorgeous strings and sounds far more authentic than his other contribution, ‘Broken’. The album closes on a high with another OneRepublic collaboration, ‘Lost & Found’. If it’s guilty of reusing the sonic template of ‘Bleeding Love’ and ‘Happy’, at least it does it with panache and a memorable melody.

Echo takes a little time to get used to; its gems are not immediately obvious. Some will view this as a fault, but it’s to Lewis’s credit that she’s not put too much stock in the money shot of disposable pop. These songs are built to last, putting forward a creditable case for Lewis as a singer and (gasp!) a songwriter with staying power. She has both the voice and the ability to craft decent pop songs, and possesses a certain class lacking in most of her contemporaries. In truth, Burke and Cole have nothing on her.

P. Viktor
UK release date: 16/11/09; www.myspace.com/leonalewis


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