CD Review: Leona Lewis, Spirit
Hey boys and girls, its me, Fiskum (www.fiskum.com). I’m back; and since I’m still not naked, this must be another CD review. Today I’m going to use the word “simulacrum” in a sentence. Its not everyday you can find a music reviewer who can do this, you know.
Leona Lewis. The woman can sing. She’s got a set of pipes. I am going to qualify this statement, but don’t get me wrong. Leona Lewis can sing.
Ms. Lewis was the winner of the British “American Idol” television show—whatever they call it in UK. For that fact alone, I probably would not have paid much attention to her. The Idol show isn’t so much about discovering unique talent as it is about elevating mediocrity to the level of star status through a gazillion-dollar marketing juggernaut working across all media. Not terribly interesting if one is interested in art.
But my producer, Simon Husbands, formerly of Blue Train and Galactic Symposium, and presently Web master and confidant to Peter Frampton, handed me a stack of CDs last week. Leona Lewis’s Spirit was one of them and I gave it a listen.
The band on Spirit sounds like something that came inside a Yamaha Motif ES 8 synthesizer/ production station. It’s this shimmering. sugary. smarmy goo of uninspired synth lines, pedestrian beats, and well, not much of interest. Little guitar work. It’s a mere simulacrum of a real band.
The intro to the first song on the CD, “Bleeding Love”, showed promise. It was played on a dirty-sounding Hammond B3 with a slow Leslie, and I thought “Hey Fiskum, this is going to be cool.” Unfortunately, that brief introduction was one of the high points of the CD. One of the guitar players I use is Slim Dunlap from the Replacements. I would have been happy to make a referral. Slim would have transformed the record.
Another thing about “Bleeding Love”: In the second one-half of the tune, they get the beat backward. I’m sure they did it on purpose, but it doesn’t work. Unless you want to sound like Lawrence Welk or a Polish polka band, the claps are always on beats 2 and 4. No exceptions. It’s all about the back beat. For some reason, the clap on the second half of “Bleeding Love” comes in on 3. Its somewhat disconcerting, and I had to listen a couple of times to make sure I was hearing it correctly. Takes it from a 2/4 feel to a 4/4 feel. This is why one needs a good producer. Not just an engineer who can run Pro Tools, not a marketing guru, but an honest-to-god producer.
The rest of the compositions on the CD are pretty lame. They all have the same formulaic build, sound like they could go somewhere, but don’t. And the lyrics sound like something that came out of a song-writing seminar.
Leona should go on a spiritual retreat. She should load her iPod with tunes by Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Mavis Staples, and Billie Holiday. And she should listen, listen, listen. Then find a good vocal coach.
The problem with Leona Lewis’s singing isn’t her voice. Her voice is beautiful. She can do a lot with it. But she doesn’t know what to do. Each song contains the same pop-style vocal cliches. I can tolerate a few of these, but not over and over. Here’s what I mean—there is a way of making your voice crack by not pushing as much air through your vocal chords. It’s a diaphragm-control thing. Used sparingly, it sounds cool and adds emotion. Used all the time, it’s a cliche. You can also create melodic interest by alternating between your chest voice and your head voice. But you need to quit when this gets predictable. Same with raising your voice into pitch on important notes.
Leona Lewis will sell lots of CDs—and she should. She does good stuff. I expect Leona Lewis will ultimately become a legitimate artist, not just the latest winner of a talent show. Her voice is beautiful (I said this, I know). If she decides to develop her talent without the smarmy pop-goo imposed upon her by her “Idol” handlers, she could eventually be on the same list as Roberta Flack and the other folks I mentioned. And if she had recorded Spirit with, oh say, Ray Charles’ band, and if she had included a few decent tunes, Spirit would have been a masterpiece because Leona Lewis can sing.
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