Of all the talent-show turns unearthed in the past decade, Leona Lewis is the only one to have parlayed the opportunity, when it knocked, into a significant international career; and judging by this safe, careful follow-up to the multi-platinum Spirit, she's not taking any unnecessary chances that might prematurely derail that career. She might admirably refer to the original Greek myth – in which an unrequited lover pines away till just her voice remained – in explaining the album's title, but one doesn't have to be a complete cynic to place a more prosaic interpretation on Echo, so closely does it stick to its predecessor's formula.
In the run-up to its release, Echo seemed to exist in a fog of rumour, particularly with regard to Leona's collaborators: at various points, she's been reported as working with Xenomania, Timbaland, Taio Cruz and Ne-Yo, none of whom features on the finished album. Instead, she's gone with reliable R&B/pop namessuch as Arnthor Birgisson, Max Martin, and Justin Timberlake. Lewis herself has co-written eight of the 14 tracks, significantly including the five whose blunt, brusque one-word titles – "Happy", "Brave", "Broken", "Naked", "Alive" – suggest she's aiming for a directness of emotional impact in which the tone of damaged victim of love is already becoming a touch over-familiar.
Not that she's about to admit that status upfront. "Don't say 'victim', don't say anything," she protests in the opening "Happy", while her tone in the following "I Got You" verges on triumphalist. But it's not long before the darker, intro of "Brave" leads into a melodramatic arrangement of strings and massive drums, which belies her repeated assertions that she's "not afraid". From there, we're into the winter of her romantic discontent, revealed in song after song through lines like "there's a heartbreaking chill running through my bones" and "my heart it beats, but inside I'm freezing". Even the comparatively upbeat "Lost Then Found", a duet with Ryan Tedder, comes with a cautionary edge: "I know our love isn't painless, but it's worth the risk".
Save for "Stop Crying Your Heart Out", her sententious take on an Oasis song already not short of that quality, there are few musical risks taken here, with most tracks opening slight but rapidly acquiring melodramatic heft and momentum by the first refrain. The fast, juddering electro of "Outta My Head" is as edgy as it gets, though even that doesn't stray beyond the chunky, machine-like reliability that's the cornerstone of all the album's grooves. However, while Leona's vocal tics are not yet familiar enough to be irritating, the calculated manner in which each song climbs to its climax tends to curdle its emotional authenticity.
Download this: Happy, My Hands, Lost Then Found, BraveReuse content