Leona Lewis’ ‘I Am’: Album Review

It feels super trite and misguided to return to Leona Lewis‘ X Factor days, but after a three-year hiatus (not including 2013’s bright Christmas, With Love), her “comeback” project I Am (out ) feels once again like a debut. When we first met Lewis on the reality competition series many moons ago, all we had was her voice. She would later serve us several times with solid hits, but the voice is what kept us there. That’s exactly what I Am encompasses: marveling at Lewis’ voice once again, reminding us all why we love her. However, for Lewis, this project seems to be much more than that.

With the pop landscape flooded with thin vocals and excessive production, where does that leave someone with lungs like Leona? Ostensibly forced to throw dancey hits into the ether while she still belts out poignant notes when she can. I Am‘s lead single “Fire Under My Feet” is proof of that, where the track straddles the line between club-ready and inspirational, with Lewis’ powerful vocals splitting the difference. “Thunder” is equally anthemic, continuing along the single’s I will triumph theme as Leona rumbles through the beat about rising once again. In fact, most of I Am engages that theme of Lewis exposing herself to all elements (“Power”), oftentimes questioning her own resilience (“Ladders,” “I Got You”), but bouncing back up like, I can do this (“I Am,” “The Essence Of Me”). It’s clear she’s gone through something, in both life and love.

While the 10-track offering is full of beautiful music, it would be remiss to suggest I Am is full of hits. And that’s where Leona’s voice becomes an impediment. Take “Power,” where the end rides out with hyper-synthesized Auto-Tuned vocals (think Imogen Heap), a vocal trick that’s definitely not designed for her, or the exceptionally oversung “I Got You.” When Lewis is just singing, she’s really just singing, and that’s where she should stay, evidenced by her gorgeous standout title track. Still, when you’ve walked through the fire like Lewis is suggesting on her fifth LP, it’s easy to get recklessly emotional, wearing your heart in your voice. I Am may be slightly flawed by design, but there are still many “yaaasssss” moments, enough to make you hope her next go ’round doesn’t take as long.

Idolator Score: 3.5/5

— Kathy Iandoli