There’s a moment, right at the end of Freedom, when all the music drops away and leaves Rebecca Ferguson’s voice alone, wearied but unbowed: it’s as if the music, with its punchy rhythms and stirring arrangements, has been driving her along, willing her to reach this goal of self-realisation, and finally she can rest, complete.
It’s the title-track, one of two songs here that include the word “freedom” in the title, and it’s clear this is the overriding issue behind all the other songs too, right from the opening stomp-drum chords of “I Hope”, where she wishes an ex-lover well as she takes a leap into the void: “After a time I realised that for me to grow, I’ve got to let go”.
The early part of Freedom is taken up with this break. The melody and background humming of “Fake Smile” is about getting over a break up, and there’s an earthy quality to her delivery that speaks of painful experience. The John Legend duet “Bridges” finds those crossings finally burned; and the marvellous tribal stomper “My Best” echoes Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” in its determination to build from the beginning, Ferguson realising “You’re at your best when there’s nothing else left”.
From there on, the healing process takes over. “Every hurt I will keep, like gold in my pocket,” she resolves in “Hanging On”, the phoenix theme further extended through “Wonderful World” and “We’ll Be Fine”, until “I Choose You” – one of a couple of tracks which seem to take solace in her children – finds her fulfilled: “I choose happiness, I choose being myself”.
It’s this satisfying emotional arc that gives Freedom much of its power, and raises the album above the level of simply a collection of songs. But the masterstroke may be the decision to open with the ebullient “I Hope”, which provides the initial charge to get over the early succession of break-up songs, setting up that final pay-off where she faces the world, alone but her own.
Download: I Hope; Fake Smile; My Best; Beautiful Design; Freedom