Leona Lewis, Echo (Syco/J)
A big voice is a mixed blessing in contemporary R&B. When you've got a little squeaky reed of a talent like Cassie, your production team knows damn well that they need to write some top-notch songs and do some damn fine production work or they're going to be laughed off the radio. When you're Leona Lewis, though—well, they all sit around and say, "Let's have her start soft, and then—! Then the music starts to swell like we're on Broadway! And she goes for broke! Woo hoo! Rake in the cash!"
They're not entirely wrong. She can sing; the breathy throbbing is effective. But over and over for an entire album, and the repeated effort to get you out of your seat starts to tip over into hectoring. Yes, okay, I know I'm supposed to feel like I'm overcoming troubles and breaking on through, but couldn't I just, you know, shake my butt? Or be sad? Just for a second? No? All right, all right, I'll get out the lighter again...
There are a couple of moments here that are supposed to change up the pace: "Out of My Head" and "Naked" throw in some wannabe-funky keyboards before scurrying back to shelter in the inspirational powers of sodden bombast. Only "Love Letter" really avoids the lure of those mighty lungs, as producer Kevin Rudolf takes the time to write an actual catchy tune with some nice harmonies. It's not a great song, necessarily, but it is unassuming and well-crafted—and Lewis, as always, for better or worse, sounds great.