Saturday, April 12, 2008

Leona Lewis' "Spirit" Guarantees Her Success

Throughout music history, the United Kingdom has been one of the primary producers of many of the most successful and talented artists of all time – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Spice Girls, and, more recently, musicians such as Natasha Bedingfield and Mika. Enter Leona Lewis, America’s hottest new U.K. import, who has shot right up to the top of the British Invasion list. I mean she belongs there, especially given that major publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, People Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly have all already dubbed her as one of the “hottest stars of 2008.”

Back in the day before Mariah Carey discovered hip hop collaborations and still actually sang (a skill she clearly no longer utilizes judging by her current single “Touch My Body” and pitiful new album “E=Mc2”) she was a remarkable talent. Remember her early hits such as “Always Be My Baby” or “Emotions”? It is songs such as these that could very easily have been from the same recording session as Lewis’ debut album “Spirit,” the fastest selling British debut of all time, which was released this side of the pond on April 8th. Everything from the trademark soaring vocals to the R&B infused pop sound make up this exquisite album. Lewis doesn’t even pretend to deny the inspiration, as the photo on her album cover is practically a replica of the cover of Carey’s self-titled 1990 debut. Perhaps the similarities and successful path Mariah took was the premise for the decision of music giants Clive Davis and Simon Cowell to team up for the very first time to work on the creation of “Spirit.”

Lewis’ lead single, “Bleeding Love,” the UK’s best selling song of 2007 and the current #1 song on the United World Chart, has been in the Top 10 Billboard chart for the past seven weeks in a row. It peaked at #1, falling slightly back only due to entrances by fellow multi-platinum divas Madonna, and ironically, Carey. This was the first time that a British female solo artist hit the top spot on the American charts in over twenty years (the last time being Kim Wilde’s 1987 mega-hit “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”). Written by Ryan Tedder of 2007’s breakout band OneRepublic, “Bleeding Love” is a mid-tempo track about a woman knowing she is an emotionally abusive relationship, but is unable to leave because she is too much in love. Even though you can hear it on every radio station in the country at least once every half hour, it is still refreshing simply because of how different it sounds from the rest of today’s mainstream pop.

As quickly as “Bleeding Love” took off, so will many other tracks on the record. Songs such as “Better In Time,” “Take A Bow,” “Forgive Me”, and “Angel” are all guaranteed hits, with the words “radio smash” written all over them. In fact, it is hard to believe that “Spirit” is Leona’s first record, as it sounds like it could very easily be a greatest hits album rather than a debut. Seriously, I’m not kidding, the songs are that good.

One of the standout tracks on the record is “Misses Glass,” one of two newly recorded songs exclusively for the U.S. release of the album (the other is the Akon-produced “Forgive Me”). Despite its somber and cliché lyrics, the song is insanely catchy, as it was conjured from a recipe that provides the perfect amounts of pop, rock, and R&B all in one. In other words, you can both grab your hair brush and sing into it like a microphone, or flip it around and play it like a guitar. Either way, this song will get you on your feet and moving.

Like any reality TV singing contest winner (Leona won season three of the U.K. series The X Factor), she packs her album with quite a few ballads to show off her incredible voice, range, and belting ability. Big numbers such as “I Will Be” and “Here I Am” allow her gorgeous voice to send chills down the spines of listeners. This is particularly the case with her flawless rendition of Roberta Flack’s 1972 #1 smash “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Not only does she completely trump the original, but she also outshines every other vocalist who has ever attempted to sing this song. And, yes, I am taking Celine Dion’s version into account.

The tricky thing about breaking into America is that once you’ve hit the mainstream market, it’s hard to stay there. So many famous British artists have made it here, but are never heard from again after their hit single is no longer in rotation (Robbie Williams, anyone?). This, however, is far from the fate that will await Leona Lewis. Already a household name, this new international icon is not going anywhere anytime soon. Judging by the impeccable debut album, “Spirit,” the only place you will find her in the years to come will be at the very top of the charts.

Like it? Buy it here