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Music Review

Leona Lewis: 'Spirit'

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Leona Lewis: 'Spirit'
Released on Monday, Nov 12 2007

You've got to feel for Leona Lewis. The timid north London girl carries not only the weight of the nation's expectations on her slender shoulders, but also the future of The X Factor's credibility as a star-making vehicle. After cocking up royally with Steve Brookstein, and managing to propel Shayne Ward towards sales figures most accurately described as "bleh", nobody's taking any chances this time around. Simon Cowell recently dubbed Lewis "one of the most important artists in the world"; she's been allowed eleven months to ready her debut album - Ward barely got four - and Spirit's production budget is probably big enough to settle Heather Mills' outstanding legal bills: Dallas Austin (Madonna, TLC, Sugababes), Walter Afanasieff (Mariah Carey, Celine Dion) and Timbaland protégé Ryan Tedder have all strained their knob-twiddling fingers to make sure this disc's a winner.

Impressively, Spirit's A-list production team has prevented Lewis - a singer whose swooping, octave-conquering voice really belongs in the diva-dominated early nineties – from sounding too fusty or old-fashioned. Tedder, the producer and co-writer of the album's trailer single, 'Bleeding Love', recently noted that "if you're going to push that kind of music [these days] - big ballads and big songs - you have to be edgier; they can't be clean and polished." To that end, he tempers 'Bleeding's lovelorn balladry with the sort of beefy, hard-edged beats you'd normally find on a Timbaland track, and gives Lewis an unexpected urban edge on 'Take A Bow'. Even the chipper gospel-pop of 'Whatever It Takes' is anchored by a rhythm track that wouldn't shame a boy-racer cruising through Harlem in his pimped-up ride.

Just as surprisngly, Spirit finds Lewis wallowing in darker lyrical territory than her wholesome image would suggest. 'Bleeding Love' is surely the first talent show single to feature a possible reference to self-harm – either way, "My heart's crippled by the vein that I keep on closing" is a million miles away from the banal platitudes of 'A Moment Like This', Lewis' X Factor victory song that's tacked on here as a 'UK bonus track'. 'Better In Time' and 'Take A Bow' deal with failed romances in admirably stark terms, while 'Homeless', a power ballad that compares the end of a relationship to a life of queueing outside inner city soup kitchens, is almost unbearably bleak. "In this cold I'm walking aimless, feeling helpless," Lewis warbles in a tour de force of despair and misery.

Spirit isn't entirely without fault. Over 14 songs and 57 minutes, there's a dearth of uptempo moments – only 'Whatever It Takes' and the sassy 'Best You Never Had' really require Lewis to get her toes tapping – and, at times, Lewis apes her heroes a little too closely. The overwrought 'Here I Am' could have come straight from The Bodyguard soundtrack, while the histrionic finale of 'Footprints In The Sand' seems hellbent on revisiting Mariah Carey's schlock-pop masterwork 'Anytime You Need A Friend'. Tellingly, it's already taken 'Friend's place on those jubilant X Factor montage scenes that tend to round off an especially emotional audition episode.

However, even Spirit's weaker moments are saved by Lewis, whose performances are technically brilliant, filled with emotion and never over-egged. Not that she's a slacker in the vocal showboating stakes, mind – the 12-second "eeeeeeyeeaayaaaaay" that jump-starts the crescendo of 'Homeless' is one of the most dazzling pop moments of the year. At this stage in the game, it's inadvisable – inexcusable even - to heap any more praise on Simon Cowell's planet-sized ego, but it's even more foolish to deny the truth: The X Factor just created its first superstar.



[The 'Deluxe Edition', released a year and five days after the original, adds three new songs to the initial tracklisting. 'Misses Glass' and the Akon-penned 'Forgive Me' first appeared on the US version of Spirit, but both are trumped by 'Run', a Snow Patrol cover that really is worthy of the adjective "spine-tingling".

The 'Deluxe Edition' also includes a DVD of the
Spirit campaign, the best of which, 'Forgive Me', finds Lewis looking ever so slightly uncomfortable.]


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