Poor Leona can’t catch a break at the moment, though I’m not sure if the general public have quite twigged how badly things are going at the moment. Sure she’s not the massive household name she was in 2007/8, but she’s still amassing a decent collection of top 10 hits. For all the worries about how this latest album is doing, she’s still scored three top 10 hits in little over a year.
But behind that front, staying power is an issue. Her singles peak high but vanish quickly, and the same can be said for latest album “Glassheart”. It managed a No.3 peak in the UK but hasn’t hung around. The label – who haven’t exactly excelled themselves in handling post-“Echo” Leona – are taking their time with the American release, probably for the best.
I haven’t listened to a lot of Leona album tracks, though I did download Spirit when it was marked down. While it didn’t make much lasting impact, she is one of my favourite voices in the world of MoR, and that’s something that always shines through on record. She’s constantly criticised for not being a big personality, but you have to remember she was from X-Factor, the public picked her anyway because of her amazing voice. Why should she change her personality to suit some cliched diva template? Anyway, enough of that, it’s been a long wait but how was “Glassheart”?
10 Trouble – Well I’ve written about this before, and still think it’s pretty amazing. Dramatic stabs of piano and spooky vocals from Leona, this time giving a doom warning to her partner, that she’s a life ruiner. OK that doesn’t quite wash with Leona’s nice temperament, but she does her best. You can smell Emeli Sande on this one, but fortunately I don’t have to see nor hear her (it’s happened too much this year). Great beats on the chorus, and the typically effortless Leona adlibs. Really love this one, and I think it sets up the album nicely, it’s not going to be all sunshine and lollipops…
07 Un-love me – More heartbreak, and something that feels comfortably like my image of a Leona album track. MoR mid-tempo, but it’s got a bit of a cloud over it, fortunately not as stormy as in “Trouble”. This time she’s the one who can’t get out of a doomed relationship, so the mood is a bit subdued. It’s got a nice pace to it, sounds a bit like an Agnes track weirdly, anyone else getting that? A bit of a plod but a nice easy listen.
06 Lovebird – Are they rummaging through the “Spirit” bins, trying to find something she can get a big hit with? This has a similar feeling to “Better in time”, but doesn’t quite have the chorus. That “dum dum diddy” hook is memorable, but the tune is just a bit generic. God this really does sound like “Better in time” production-wise! Yeah all good but just not very exciting. This is a Dr. Luke co-produced track? Really??
08 Come alive – Ooh a dancey undertone to this one, how exciting. Loreen-esque desolate lyrics, that’s going to go down with the internet gays! I like her voice on this, she can add some weight to the songs when the occasion demands. I do love a soaring vocal on a busy dance beat, and this is exactly what I get. The song isn’t going down as a big classic, nor would it make a good single, but I appreciate the change in tone a lot.
10 Fireflies – I saw her sing this on Children in Need (at about 11.30pm, poor Leona), and thought it was a bit of a bore, that dirgey piano riff, children’s choir etc. But now it’s really working for me, I even thought she might have written it, but apparently not. Just sounds very personal, some kind of bereavement going on here and she really sells it to me, both emotionally and with her full-power vocals for the first time on this album. That piano riff builds up with some beats laid over it, and it ends up being one of the highlights of the album for me. Shame it’ll probably never get heard outside late-night charity events… hopefully a last-minute cancellation on tomorrow’s X-Factor final will get her some exposure.
07 I to you – What an odd start, dramatic but sounds like it’s starting halfway through the first verse. What the hell’s it about? She’s hiding drug stashes, staying at home instead of working “even though she’s educated”. Sounds like another doomed relationship, no wonder her heart is made of glass. Very dramatic, and YES, I KNEW this one had Sande written all over it! She’s being generous with what are basically Emeli songs, it’s not like they wouldn’t have fitted for her! Doesn’t quite make up for Leona losing Beyonce’s “Halo” or Rihanna’s “We found love” though, does it? A bit of a strange tone to it, but I do like the dramatic strings and the general feel of it, even if the chorus isn’t quite there for me.
08 Shake you up – “Can you turn the m-m-music up a little bit please?” WTF? That’s the least convincing time I’ve ever heard that said, how bizarre! A bit of an 80s throwback though, I do love a Leona uptempo. Some nonsense about broken bottles in a trash-bag (sounds weird in well-spoken English). Can’t work out what this reminds me of, certain not the usual sound for producer Darkchild anyway. I really like that chorus, more dysfunctional relationships though, she can’t catch a break can she?
07 Stop the clocks – More midtempos, still not quite hitting the mark though. Sounds slightly more contemporary than “Lovebird” though, and builds a lot more nicely on its way to the chorus. The rhythm is pretty infectious, and the chorus did get stuck in my head, to my surprise. A pretty average love song, but at least she’s sounding happy for a change!
08 Favourite Scar – This drove me mad, I knew that “la la la” sample from one of Rogue Traders’ good album tracks “In love again”. Turns out I wasn’t going mad, both songs sample the same Tears for Fears track “Head over heels”. It’s a good use of the sample, not one I think many people have heard, and it’s used all the way through the song. Really like that chorus too, though I’m worried she’s hanging around with bad guys again. But she seems happy enough despite being shot through the heart and scarred. Got a nice tinkly fairytale feel to it but stays pretty grounded.
05 When it hurts – Sande, is that you? Even sounds like she’s singing! But apparently she’s not there, though her producer Naughty Boy steps in for this one. I just don’t really like the melody on this one, it’s just a bit ploddy and hookless. Not really getting this one, her vocals are a bit slurry and never get a chance to really go all out.
10 Glassheart – Oh god please release this as a single! She gets a dance track and really goes for it. Important enough to name the album after, this is the much rumoured dubstep venture, well sort of. Sounds more like Bieber’s “Beauty and a beat” in the breakdown, which is no bad thing. Not sure if this would really fare better than poor Alexandra Burke’s 90s anthems album, but clearly things aren’t working at the moment, so what’s the harm in it? She doesn’t really get to stretch the vocals, but she gets a really contemporary-sounding track and really sells it to me. I love that dance breakdown before the last chorus, glorious!
06 Fingerprint – Time to wrap it up now, and back to what she’s best at – ballads. I love her lower register, it’s so deep and rich, such a great range. Only we don’t really get much of a chance to hear that. She does get to hit some heights, but this song just never gets off the ground. It’s just a scientifically accurate repetition about the uniqueness of her beau’s fingerprints. Hmm… well a bit of a dud to land on, but it’s nice enough.
OK now I dissect it a little bit, it sounds more of an uneven mix of max-tracks and gloopy ballad duds, but it does at least feel like a consistent album. Leona’s still great as a vocalist, she effortlessly deals with any vocals needed, but just some of the melodies don’t get anywhere exciting. I really hope she can pull things together soon, realistically with the next album though. She’s trying different sounds, she just needs that hit to put her back on the map (and in the shopping baskets).
Keepers for the iPod: Trouble, Come alive, Fireflies, Shake you up, Favourite scar, Glassheart