Leona Lewis’ ‘Glassheart’: Album Review

Leona Lewis was supposed to be the second coming of Mariah Carey. And for a while there, she almost lived up to the billing. The English songbird broke big. “Bleeding Love” was the highest-selling single of 2008 and her debut album sold nine million copies around the world. Unfortunately for Leona, it soon became apparent that she was something of a one-trick pony. While Mariah jumped from ballads to dance-pop and urban club-bangers without spilling a drop of champagne from her glass, the UK X Factor winner was permanently stuck in ballad mode. The hits soon dried up.

When her sophomore set underperformed, Syco execs knew drastic measures were called for. A call went out to songwriters with a very simple missive: “no ballads.” Album number three, Glassheart (out in the UK), would free Leona from her adult contemporary shackles and relaunch the 27-year-old as the thinking man’s dance diva. Nice plan, but “Collide,” the intended lead single, stiffed, and the usually scandal-free singer became embroiled in an ugly plagiarism lawsuit. Instead of forging ahead with her new sound, the album was postponed for over a year and largely re-recorded in a more familiar style.

Glassheart version 2.0 is a depressingly polite affair that lacks substance and commercial foresight. “Collide” didn’t set the charts on fire, but it proved to be ahead of its time, as club records are hot right now. If Leona had stuck with her original vision, the prospects of this album would be very different. Instead, the diva plays it incredibly safe by working with the game’s hottest writers and producers — which makes the sterility of the finished product all the more galling. The production is uniformly top notch, the Lewis’ vocal prowess is beyond repute and she has even tried to ride alongside the dubstep bandwagon. The only thing missing from Glassheart is Leona’s personality.

The rest of Glassheart varies from mid-tempo to no-tempo ballads. First the good: hitmaker Bonnie McKee joins forces with Fraser T. Smith on the achingly beautiful “Un Love Me.” This dizzying anthem will have you power-grabbing like Celine Dion in Las Vegas. Then there’s this album’s very own “Bleeding Love”: if you could genetically engineer a clone of that, hit it would probably sound a lot like “Lovebird,” with its pretty piano intro and instantly hummable chorus. This could be song that turns things around for Leona in the States.

Now for the bad, which runs from Leona-on-autopilot balladry (the lazy Whitney Houston knock-off “I To You” and LP’s apologetically meek contribution “Fingerprints”) to bizarre experiments that just don’t work. The most worrying is Ryan Tedder’s “Favourite Scar” — it sounds like Britney’s “Circus” with a Tears For Fears backing track. Nothing about that combination is good. The biggest disappointment is probably the album’s official lead single. It’s hard to fathom how Leona could turn down Rihanna’s “We Found Love” for a song that sounds like a virtual remake of Emeli Sande’s vastly superior “Daddy.” (The Scottish diva must have been extremely tired when she penned this).

The addition of a rap from Childish Gambino (on single “Trouble”) feels forced and it’s an awkward reminder that, three albums into her career, Simon Cowell’s golden girl has yet to forge her own identity. Leona seems destined to live in the shadow of other women who did it first and better.

The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: “Glassheart” is one of 2012’s best floor-fillers, while “Lovebird” has radio hit written all over it.

Sounds like: Everything else Leona has ever recorded.

Best Listened To: When doing the ironing or other household chores.

Idolator Rating: 2.5/5

Mike Wass