‘Echo’ | Leona Lewis

| Cadenza Reporter

The opening track on exotic phenom Leona Lewis’ second album, “Echo,” is the first (and so far only) released single, “Happy.” But this go-round, she isn’t bleeding love like she was on her acclaimed debut. Maybe a better starter song would be titled “Melancholy.” Even the upbeat songs on the album are just hiding heartbreaking themes behind their heavy beats. Add this to the enigmatic beauty’s sorrowful voice, and you’ve got an album that is full of contradictions.

Lewis shot to superstardom by winning “X-Factor,” the British predecessor to “American Idol.” Then her debut, “Spirit,” dropped shortly after and broke all kinds of fast- and best-selling album records. Albums are indeed independent of one another, but when someone starts off with as fantastical a success as Lewis, it’s hard not to compare the new work to the old. So, that’s what happens. And that’s where the problem comes in.

When Lewis became such a hit, her execs, managers and everybody else involved in her career walked on pins and needles to craft a flawless debut for her. The result was “Spirit’s” stylish, refined sense of being a classic. “Echo,” however, is far less expressive. Almost every song seems to try to be a listener-friends single, instead of actually communicating with its audience. The songs, excepting a few, all seem like hollow attempts at anthems of love—either of its recovery or its acquisition. Lewis takes the gladiatorial, epic formula she simply played around with on her debut and uses it on almost every song on “Echo.” What happens is not fit for stadiums, though; it’s painfully obvious that she’s trying too hard for hits.

But something that Lewis will always do well is sing. The voice that won her all of her fame is still strong. It’s more mature, if more somber, than it was in the reality competition/debut album days. That’s not a bad thing, though, as she pushes her highs to new levels of shrill ecstasy. Ignoring the moments when she ends her chest notes in a whine, this album finds Lewis in her best vocal form yet. When those few emotionally honest songs come along, they find her vocally conveying her feelings instead of just searching for the acrobatics that will awe.

If “Spirit” was appropriately titled, for it was full of soul and emotion, then this one is just as aptly named. An echo is defined as “any repetition or close imitation, as of the ideas or opinions of another.” Leona Lewis’ new album, “Echo,” could not be better described. It seems to be a wave reflected off the walls of a cave, like the original sound has died but you can still hear this simulacrum if you want. With so much spirit the first time around, I expected that sound to resonate more strongly. But all that was there was this listless, hollow echo.