Leona Lewis - Echo (2009)

Leona Lewis
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Has there ever been a more unintentionally ironic album title? Almost from day one, the orbital, if bland octaves of Leona Lewis have been accused of being a mere echo of the more vibrant and personable live performers that preceded her, from Whitney Houston to Kelly Clarkson. Now such lofty company would be enviable, if the comparisons weren't to quietly identify some lack in Lewis, a kinda "close, but no cigar" pat on the back as it were. Not that the UK darling should care after winning one of the most competitive vocal competitions in the world (2006 X-Factor), followed by a 2007 #1 worldwide hit ("Bleeding Love") and a rare multi-platinum debut album (the 6.5 million international selling Spirit).

Has there ever been a more unintentionally ironic album title? Almost from day one, the orbital, if bland octaves of Leona Lewis have been accused of being a mere echo of the more vibrant and personable live performers that preceded her, from Whitney Houston to Kelly Clarkson. Now such lofty company would be enviable, if the comparisons weren't to quietly identify some lack in Lewis, a kinda "close, but no cigar" pat on the back as it were. Not that the UK darling should care after winning one of the most competitive vocal competitions in the world (2006 X-Factor), followed by a 2007 #1 worldwide hit ("Bleeding Love") and a rare multi-platinum debut album (the 6.5 million international selling Spirit).

Still, any artist worth her salt wants to be respected as a distinctive talent, and Lewis's pretty but ho hum 2008 Grammy performance only reinforced her status as another bi-racial Barbie doll with a stunning range, but personality-free voice. Now with her second album, Lewis has an opportunity to distinguish herself as a talent and solidify her future diva status, quieting all the "one-album wonder" talk. But can she with an Echo?         

Well, yes and no. Commercially, Leona Lewis has this Cheshire sewn up.  Echo is a thoroughly enjoyable A+ pop album. From beginning to end you are treated to vocals that are never less than pristine. Echo's largely synth pop and power rock productions hangout in the background making these overdone sounds less annoying and an actual pleasure to experience thanks to Ryan Tedder, Harvey Mason Jr., Justin Timberlake and John Shanks, among other producers.

Like most calculated pop albums created in the boardroom instead of from a solitary artist's pen, there is something for everyone. The Kylie Minogue party gays will get sweaty-to-the-Max Martin produced "Outta My Head" techno romp. The lighter-wavers will swoon to the appropriately depressing power ballad, "Broken." From the lightly hip-hop flavored "Breathe" to the dramatic "Alive," radio has enough catchy Top 40 singles to choose from to carry this album well into 2011. Leona Lewis knocks another would be hit album right out of the park, commercially that is.

Artistically, there isn't a single original moment on this project. You've heard these sounds, tasted these flavors, and enjoyed these scintillating guitar riffs more memorably before. You've heard them with Kelly Clarkson, Pat Benatar, Mariah Carey, Lisa Lavie and even Laura Branigan. Big voices to propulsive rock-tinged anthems and vaguely soulful ballads with big finishes are the bread and butter of Lewis's brand of pop. But each of the talents following this formula has something unique about her voice, her sound, and her songs that make listening an experience specific to that artist.

The same cannot be said of Lewis, who despite having a phenomenal instrument, fails to demonstrate any heart and-when compared to her awe-inspiring X-factor performances or even the B-sides of Spirit-little soul. With the uninspired, but enjoyable Echo, the technically talented Ms. Lewis has once again proven to be but an echo, but now even of her former self. Recommended.       

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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