Despite push, `Spirit' doesn't soar

CD Review

April 08, 2008|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Leona Lewis is a pop dream come to life: She has a face and figure the camera loves, and a voice that smoothly soars to mountainous heights.

But the British pop singer is mostly ill-served on Spirit, her calculated and ultimately boring debut. The CD's American release was preceded by the No. 1 smash "Bleeding Love," the only song on the album with a pulse. Though the 13 cuts are slick and tuneful, they all sound like weak Mariah Carey knockoffs.

And when Lewis isn't jumping up and down the scale with her rangy voice, she sounds a bit tentative interpreting the maudlin lyrics of newfound love and heartbreak.

The album was produced by Simon Cowell and Clive Davis, the titans of highly processed pop, who unabashedly favor style over substance. Although the two surround Lewis with a glitzy cast of producers and songwriters, including Ne-Yo, Akon and even Avril Lavigne, none of the tracks really stick.

Lewis fills the arrangements with vocal acrobatics - velvety glides in her midrange and delicate soprano curlicues a la early Whitney Houston. But it all feels hollow, underscored by lifeless production that mostly sounds like adult-contemporary fare circa 1992.

Lewis' warbling is most impressive on the polished "I'm You" and "Better in Time," which sounds like a logical follow-up to "Bleeding Love." Her almost melancholic take on Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is another memorable moment on the album.

But elsewhere, Spirit sags with drippy sentiment. "Yesterday," not to be confused with the Beatles classic, and "Footprints in the Sand" are the worst offenders. Not even Lewis' vocal prowess can salvage these gag-inducing ballads.

Although Lewis shows promise as a singer of pop power ballads, Spirit begs for more variety. After a while, all the slow songs start to bleed into one another, and the singer's vocal tricks begin to wear a bit thin. In interviews, Lewis has said that what she wants most of all is longevity in pop. To accomplish that, she's going to have to do much more than just overstuff a song with vocal jumps and runs.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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