For many, including Simon Cowell, Leona Lewis is the justification for the TV talent contests such as The X-Factor, the ratings bonanza Lewis won in 2006. Since then she has had a Number 1 single and album in America, been nominated for Grammys and Brit Awards and sold over two million copies of her debut, Spirit, in the UK alone.
It’s in this context that her second album is released, the burden of matching the sales of her debut almost palpable. For this reason, Echo doesn’t exactly rock the boat, with a roll call of trusted hitmakers such as Ryan Tedder, Justin Timberlake and Max Martin all called upon to harness that rich, sometimes histrionic voice.
Opener and lead single Happy feels like an obvious retread of global smash, Bleeding Love. It sports a similar pattern of quiet build-up leading to explosive, repetitive chorus and feels too contrived, even for a talent show alumnus. Elsewhere, another rock ballad is given the Leona treatment, with Oasis‘ Stop Crying Your Heart Out replacing her dramatic re-reading of Snow Patrol‘s Run. On this occasion the kitchen-sink style production – stirring strings, acoustic strums, and inevitable appearance of a choir – feels hollow, like being aurally attacked by a (admittedly very impressive) karaoke singer.
The main problem is personality. For all the vocal gymnastics and obvious emoting, too much of the material glides by without leaving an impression. Alive is a simpering plod-along, whilst the wretched Lost Then Found isn’t improved by the appearance of One Republic. Naked is a catchy slice of ’80s guitar pop that would have sat well on the last Kelly Clarkson album, which is hardly a compliment, all things considered.
There are moments where the album does lift above the mundane. The obvious highlight is Outta My Head, which ditches the piano and guitars in favour of stuttering keyboard riffs, cheap beats and a chorus so brilliantly camp that Kylie is probably trying to rip it off as we speak. Equally infectious are I Got You and the Timberlake-penned Don’t Let Me Down, which features a genuinely stirring vocal from Lewis, delivering lyrics about making tough decisions and trying to take back control.
Ultimately though, too much of Echo is over familiar. By the end you find yourself longing for some subtlety or more light and shade. My Hands, for example, starts off quietly, Lewis delivering a poignant lyric about life after the end of a relationship before the whole thing erupts into a chorus that bludgeons the listener into submission, the sentiment of the song lost in the assault.
Echo will of course sell well, especially in the UK. In the US, however, Happy stalled outside the Top 50 and the album is on course to sell roughly a quarter of what its predecessor did in its opening week. The machine behind Lewis may still be turning at a rate of knots, but there are signs that the wheels, if not falling off, are certainly coming loose.