Album Review: Leona Lewis, “Spirit” (2008)

I’ve never been a big fan of most pop-music Divas.  I’m sure you know what I mean when I say that- I don’t own any Celine Dion CDs, I’m not a huge Whitney Houston fan, I don’t like Beyonce’s voice at all,  and though I used to love Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, I stopped following their careers years ago.  Honestly, I’m not usually drawn to the whole “female singer with a huge voice” scene- I always appreciate their talent, and will openly envy their ability to hold and hit notes that I can only dream about reaching, but I’ve never been a “fan” of any of them, really.

When Leona Lewis won X-Factor (which is the British version of American Idol), I was mildly interested in all the buzz that I was hearing about her incredible voice.  A few YouTube videos and song downloads later, and I was pretty hooked.  Lewis possesses the powerhouse vocals of Carey, Houston and Dion and is the first person to arrive on the music scene in a while with such talent aimed towards the R&B/pop arena.

Though Lewis is immensely talented, I was a bit disappointed to find that hardly any of it shines through on her debut album, Spirit.  Of course, a few of the songs are merely tools used to highlight her voice, but for the most part, the album felt like an R&B paint-by-numbers; a handful of stereotypical radio-friendly songs that definitely show us that Lewis has the pipes to hold her own in the music world, but give us absolutely no insight to who Lewis is as an individual performer.

The album begins with Lewis’ first single, Bleeding Love.  This is one of those songs that, from the first time you hear it, you know will be a success.  The beat is catchy, the tune is upbeat and accessible, the lyrics are simple and relatable (“But I don’t care what they say/I’m in love with you/They try to pull me away/But they don’t know the truth/My heart’s crippled by the vein/That I keep on closing/You cut me open and I/Keep bleeding love”), and Lewis’ vocals are clear and impressive.  The song was a number one hit in several countries (including in the US), and really became the first thing to catapult Lewis to world-wide success.

Better In Time starts off unassuming enough- just a few bars being played on the piano, violin and harmonizing opens the song, before it quickly segues into an upbeat number.  The track was easily the post-breakup anthem of 2008. The lyrics are uplifting and inspiring (“Since there’s no more you and me/It’s time I let you go/So I can be free/And live my life how it should be/No matter how hard it is I’ll be fine without you/Yes I will/Thought I couldn’t live without you/It’s gonna hurt when it heals too/It’ll all get better in time”), and even got me through a bad breakup this year.  Lewis handles the song with grace, poise, and those incredible pipes- making for pop music perfection and creating a beautiful song about self-worth and perseverance.

The first real ballad on the album is I Will Be.  The song was, interestingly enough, co-written by punk rocker, Avril Lavigne, and the lyrics do remind me of some of Lavigne’s rock ballads (“I will be, all that you want/And get myself together/’Cause you keep me from falling apart/All my life, I’ll be with you forever/To get you through the day/And make everything okay”), except, of course, she in no way has the vocal prowess to pull off the song the way that Lewis does.   Because of Lewis’ talent, the song is very pretty, although fairly typical.

Leona Lewis Live 2010 (1)
Speaking of things being “typical”, this is the part of the album where the majority of the songs fall into copy-cat/boring territory.  I’m You is the basic R&B song with an urban/Mary J. Blige-esque feel to it.  Though Lewis’ voice is, as always, lovely to listen to, the song is pretty bland as a whole.  Forgive Me is a pop song with a soaring chorus that fails to excite, while Misses Glass has an 80’s R&B/dance feel to it, but doesn’t inspire me at all.  Angel and Yesterday sound like a handful of tracks that I’ve already heard recorded by Beyonce- and I didn’t like them the first few times I heard them, and certainly don’t want to hear the reheated versions now.   Whatever It Takes is a breezy song that would sound at home on the Top 40 station, but it’s nothing remarkable.

The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face puts us back in ballad territory, but it’s a very welcome change.  The slow paced song gives us plenty of time to focus on Lewis’ voice.  She’s truly got such a pleasant tone when she sings, and her vibrato is really nice to listen to as well.  All in all, she sings the song quite well, and despite it being just a typical love ballad (“The first time ever I saw your face/I thought the sun rose in your eyes/And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave/To the dark and the endless skies my love”), all can be forgiven because of Lewis’ strong delivery.

I think I will like any song that’s titled Take A Bow.  I love Madonna’s mid-90’s ballad, I adored Rihanna’s recent dance song of the same name, and I love this sultry number.  The lyrics are appropriately biting and angry (“So take a bow/Cause you’ve taken everything else/You played the part and like a star you played it so well/Take a bow/’Cause this scene is coming to an end/I gave you love. All you give me was pretend/So now take a bow “), and Lewis’ performs the song with angst and passion, making it a dazzling number.

The album comes to a close with two very different ballads.  The first of the two is Footprints In The Sand, a song co-written by no other than Simon Cowell.   And, I hate to say it, but, Simon- I just don’t get it.  The lyrics are decent enough (“You’ll find my footprints in the sand/When your heart is full of sadness and despair/I’ll carry you/When you need a friend/You’ll find my footprints in the sand”), but the song is far too cheesy and the choir at the end definitely pushes it over the top.  Really, the track sounds like the “winner” song that the newest American Idol gets stuck with every year at the finale- the whole thing is just far too clichéd.

Thankfully, the latter of the ballads, Here I Am, does much better.  The vocals are much more understated, and Lewis sings in her lower register, which is where she sounds best.  The lyrics are a bit better, though admittedly still stereotypical (“When you need some shelter from the rain/When you need a healer for your pain/I will be there time and time again/When you need someone to love you/Here I am”), but at least this time, the inspirational theme is done nicely without seeming corny.

Spirit is a good album and Leona Lewis is greatly talented.  The few songs that stand out are absolutely brilliant, but put those aside, and you have the blueprint used for every other R&B/pop music diva album, with no originality or reflection on Lewis’ personality whatsoever.  Of course, this is her first album and she has plenty of room to grow into the incredible artist that I believe she can be.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Bleeding Love
2. Better in Time
3. I Will Be
4. I’m You
5. Forgive Me
6. Misses Glass
7. Angel
8. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
9. Yesterday
10. Whatever It Takes
11. Take a Bow
12. Footprints in the Sand
13. Here I Am

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_weSk0BonM]
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