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Album Review

Familiar territory for a spirited voice

November 16, 2009

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Pop
Leona Lewis Echo
J. Records / Syco Music
ESSENTIAL “Outta My Head’’

Leona Lewis made history by having last year’s biggest-selling single, “Bleeding Love,’’ from her debut, “Spirit.’’ It capped a remarkable year for the ingenue who won Britain’s “The X Factor’’ talent show in 2006 with her surefooted contemporary R&B that reminded most everyone of early Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.

The pressure was on for Lewis’s follow-up, which might explain why “Echo’’ feels like such a spectacular letdown on first blush. Taking its title a bit too literally, the album sticks to the winning formula that made “Spirit’’ a runaway success. Problem is, we already know these sides of Lewis’s talent. At 24, she’s a dynamic singer who still isn’t tapping the various shades of her voice, and she’s still mistaking bombast for emotion.

After her debut’s hulking ballads and slow jams, “Echo’’ attempts to give Lewis more rhythmic traction with forays into electro-pop (“Fly Here Now’’) and Top 40 rock (“I Got You’’). “Happy,’’ the lead single co-written by Ryan Tedder (the OneRepublic frontman behind “Bleeding Love’’), sounds like a castoff from “Spirit,’’ right down to its big chorus that conveys little feeling. And it’s tough to get behind lyrical drivel like this: “Angels lift you off the ground/ I’ve got shadows weighing me down,’’ from the Middle Eastern-tinged “Brave.’’

To its credit, though, “Echo’’ sounds downright sumptuous, spotlighting the impressive peaks and valleys of Lewis’s voice. “Can’t Breathe’’ is a marvel for just how effortlessly Lewis ascends the scales, and the dance-pop delight “Outta My Head’’ strikes the perfect balance between Lewis’s penchant for sugar and a Lady GaGa-size heaping of spice. (Out tomorrow)

JAMES REED