I’ve never been in a position where I’ve felt equally frustrated and excited about a Leona Lewis album before. That’s actually a lot of passion and fuss over a “beige balladeer” most of my peers have little time for these days.
However, if you’ve spent any more than three minutes on this blog, you’ll find that I do rep hard for premiere female vocalists a lot of tastemakers happily dismiss as irrelevant.
Glassheart is Leona Lewis‘ third studio album and – without question – her most eclectic record to date. In its finest moments, the project captures Leona‘s preference for love-bled songs and renders it to elements of drum ‘n’ bass, trip hop, and alternative pop. All of which are sonic styles the X Factor siren has never dabbled in before.
But I’d be wary to label Glassheart as some vigorous artistic overhaul for Leona Lewis because it is sorely inconsistent in parts – and that’s where the struggle I mentioned before comes in. There’s this strange tension between the aforementioned innovative new styles and the shackles of tired “Leona-format” balladry that we’ve all heard before in her first two albums.
Glassheart just feels like one of those bodies of work that tastemakers are likely to pick apart and re-assemble in a way they see fit, much like the approach to Christina Aguilera’s Bionic.
One would give approving nods to standouts like ’Come Alive’ – a formidable storm of grime and drum ‘n’ bass – that feels like the album’s true opener once you’ve placated Leona’s conservative fans with the single (‘Trouble’) and two dutiful ballads.
Elsewhere in ‘Glassheart’, a sinister cross-pollination of Leona‘s ethereal vocals with aggressive dub step beats hit the lights with blindingly great results.
There has never been a more exciting Leona Lewis uptempo created. It legitimately snatches wigs in the hardest way, from the cold and bemoaning verses through to the head-splitting dance breakdown.
However, that walloping bass-heavy breakdown is something of a new addition. If you play back the first performance of ‘Glassheart’ Leona did at G-A-Y a year ago when the album was originally slated to drop, you’ll find it pounding to a more poppers o’clock, Euro-dance production. Just a little bit of trivia you can share with your friends between sips of strawberry daiquiri next time you’re cruising at the bar.
However, not every square inch of Glassheart flares with ostentatious displays of new styles and colours – you would actually need to listen closely to some of these tracks to pick up the subtle flavours in Leona‘s experimentation.
The bittersweet ‘Favourite Scar’ – which samples Tears for Fears‘ ‘Head Over Heels’ – hears the Hackney diva adopt a bossier swag in the verses. The way she dismisses “it don’t matter, it don’t matter, it don’t matter… boy, you better turn up your ste-ree-oh!” sounds like something Rihanna would put down.
Props must be given to the diverse producers and songwriters who collaborated with Leona to make Glassheart sound as vital as it does.
Emeli Sandé – one of the most celebrated breakthrough British artists this year – lends her songwriting abilities to three tracks on the album’s final tracklisting. It’s a stellar collaboration that I never wanna see diminished in any way because these two talents fit each other so damn well.
The most memorable of Sandé’s contributions is ‘I To You’ - a smouldering, strings-soaked James Bond-theme in waiting that casts Leona as a love-imprisoned siren, delivering line after line of intense drama.
“I will stay home with the kids, everyday cleaning up where you live even though I’m educated. ‘Cause you are great, you are big. And I don’t mind givin’ in, givin’ in for free, for free. You are love, you are sin, you’ll always be everything, everything to me… What am I to you?”
My personal appreciation of ‘I To You’ comes hand-in-hand with a relief in hearing Leona deliver a song so capably without the vocal acrobatics and escalation to glass-piercing high notes she is typically known for.
Elsewhere, the album’s next single ‘Fireflies’ is constructed on and driven by an emotive piano melody so stunning in its own right, it almost absorbs the spotlight from everything else happening in the song – including the gospel vocals and Leona‘s crescendoing ad libs.
I mean, there’s a time and place for it, I’m not in favour of stamping out those vocal tricks in Leona‘s repertoire per se, because in the context of the right song it can be so fucking electric.
‘Lovebird’ – which is a textbook example of your standard Leona Lewis/Ryan Tedder ballad – is shining proof that the winning formula is what it is for a reason. I fucking broke down in tears behind the steering wheel when I first heard the massive break up ballad. The lyrical themes of growing apart from someone you love and that guilt-ridden desire to want to be set free felt like it was written about my last relationship.
“But the time went on, the wind has blown, and I have grown. And I started feeling that my wings have been broken. And I can’t believe that I ever want to be set free, but I just can’t stay. So your love bird’s flying away…”
The intensely personal song was of course written about Leona’s own separation from her long-term boyfriend, who she had known since she was 10.
There are some extraordinary songs written on this album that just sound like honest and vulnerable accounts of love’s many kinds of bruises. Although, Leona’s no stranger to singing tortured break up ballads in her six-year discography, they feel chillingly personal this time around.
Glassheart feels like a worthwhile investment in establishing the singer’s versatility even if it wasn’t a committed effort from start to finish. The overall quality of the songs on this album is the stronger than any of Leona‘s previous releases, which I think more than compensates for her dwindling record sales and general commercial relevance.
Leona Lewis‘ Glassheart debuted at #3 on the UK charts, making it her first album to not enter the British charts at #1. There is no Australian release date confirmed as yet, so I’ve imported by copy of the deluxe edition, y’all.
The project’s proper lead single ‘Trouble’ (remember, she’s pretending that ‘Collide’ never happened) managed to peak at #7, while the album’s title track ’Glassheart’ cracked the UK Dance charts at #27, based on downloads alone in the week the album came out.