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[Album Review] Rebecca Ferguson - Heaven

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Monday, May 28, 2012

[Album Review] Rebecca Ferguson - Heaven

Rebecca Ferguson Heaven US
U.S. Album Artwork
Liverpudlian (I just love saying that!) songstress, Rebecca Ferguson will release her U.S. debut album, Heaven, tomorrow May 29th on Syco/Columbia Records. GET EXCITED

What's more, Rebecca's U.S. promotional schedule is filling up FAST with scheduled appearances on The Today Show, The View and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  On Tuesday May 29th, Ferguson will make her U.S. television debut on The Today Show, followed by an appearance on Barbara Walters' gab-fest The View on May 30th.  She'll return to The Today Show on June 1st, followed by a musical performance slot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno June 26th

Now THIS is the kind of promotional schedule I was hoping Rebecca would have! These are all potentially HUGE exposure-boosting opportunities. Way to go Columbia!

While her U.S. promo schedule is heating up, she's not forgetting her UK fans.  Rebecca will headline at the iTunes Festival on September 16th at the Roundhouse in London.  Other artists slated to perform at the iTunes Festival this year include UsherEmeli Sand√©, Jack White, Norah Jones, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, and One Direction.

Ferguson, a Music Is My King Size Bed favorite, first came to my attention (and everyone else's attention in the UK) during her stint on the seventh series of the UK's X-Factor, where she ultimately finished second.

After dazzling audiences and judges alike with her beautiful and stirring performances, the then 24 year old Ferguson got to work on her debut album.  Heaven dropped (literally) in the UK on December 5th 2011, preceded by the album's stunning lead single, "Nothing's Real But Love," which entered the UK Singles Charts at #10.  

Rebecca Ferguson Heaven

Following a performance on X-Factor last November, pre-order sales for Ferguson's debut album jumped an astounding 700% on!  The album, fast approaching double Platinum sales, wound up debuting at an impressive #3, selling 128,458 copies in it's first week, the highest sales for a number three album all year.  Now, having already released three singles and toured the entire UK, Rebecca Ferguson is ready to make an impact here in America.

While I'm still hoping for a larger scale promotional tour of some kind, Ferguson did perform some exclusive showcases in the States last month in New York and Los Angeles, earning early critical praise from respected music bloggers and publications like The New York Daily News, who gave her album four stars, calling her voice "rich and resonant, tawny and thick," with "a timbre like no other and a character that speaks of a full life."  Quite the early response, wouldn't you say? If you told me back in 2010, that this shy girl from Liverpool would be embarking on a massive U.S. promo blitz just two years later, I don't think I'd believe you.  Thank you music Gods!


The album hits the right note from the start with the beautiful acoustic guitar-lead "Nothing's Real But Love," co-penned by Ferguson and Eg White (Adele, Duffy), a wise choice for a lead single, given that it's all about her fantastic voice.  The minimal instrumentation puts the spotlight on those powerful pipes of hers, truly showcasing her range and unique vocal style.  Ferguson doesn't just belt out a song (though she very well could!), instead she exercises restraint, a less is more approach where the lyrics are more important than hitting the big notes.  Jim Farber of The Daily News compared Ferguson to Macy Gray, at least in terms of timbre, citing the similar throatiness and pitch their voices share, but differentiating Ferguson, calling her "more agile" with "none of Gray's cartoonish taint." I couldn't agree more.

For those of you fearing the album full of schmaltzy lovesick ballads, FEAR NOT! Heaven offers the perfect balance of up and mid-tempo songs, with a couple of strong ballads thrown into the mix.  The album's second track, "Glitter & Gold," Ferguson's second single in the UK, is a soulful up-tempo stunner co-written by Rebecca, Alex Smith (Olly Murs, The Wanted) and Paul Barry (James Morrison, Celine Dion) and produced by Mark Taylor (Cher, Kylie Minogue).

In sweeping ballads like "Shoulder to Shoulder" and (rumored fourth UK single) "Teach Me How To Be Loved," Ferguson delivers exactly the sort of performances that kept England voting for her week after week during her run on X-Factor.  Unlike other balladeers in her technical league, Ferguson doesn't just sing the lyrics, she feels them.

Rebecca Ferguson

While there aren't really any missteps on Heaven, there are clear standouts.  "Fairytale (Let Me Live My Life This Way)," for instance is a punchy mid-tempo retro-pop JAM with a bubbly chorus that recalls something right out of Diana Ross & The Supremes' catalog.  Along those same lines is the Fraser T. Smith (Adele, Jennifer Hudson) produced/co-written "Diamond to Stone," one of my early favorites from the album.  

"Too Good To Lose," Ferguson's third UK single is another easy standout for me.  One of four album tracks produced by Eg White (and the second White-produced single!), "Too Good To Lose" has some MAJOR dance floor potential, something her UK label clearly saw when they commissioned remixes by English producer/DJ/remixer Seamus Haji.  There are moments in the song where Ferguson's timbre, coupled with the song's production remind me of Heather Small's 2000 Top 20 UK hit "Proud."  

Speaking of remix potential, it's worth mentioning that all three of Ferguson's singles have seen dance mixes attached.  During her time on X-Factor, Ferguson impressed with a rendition of the Robin S. 1993 dance classic "Show Me Love," immediately conjuring up images of "Rebecca Ferguson: Dance Diva" in my head.  While Ferguson never goes all out "dance-diva" on the album, she comes close a couple of times, particularly on the Steve Booker (Duffy's "Mercy") produced "Run Free," an up-tempo 80s-90s inspired pop SMASH that manages to stay classy while encouraging plenty of booty shaking.

Honorable mentions include the album's one Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Kylie Minogue) produced track, "Mr. Bright Eyes."  Leave it pop master Brian Higgins and the Xenomania team to deliver one of the album's most decidedly POP tracks, all the while still maintaining that retro flare present throughout.  In "Mr. Bright Eyes," Ferguson coos flirtatiously with a demure confidence, completely uncharacteristic of anything I've heard her do.  I can't tell if I love it or hate it (I'm leaning towards the former) but it's nice to see her versatility as an artist.  It's easy for an artist with a voice as distinctive as hers to get pigeonholed into a genre, but luckily Rebecca Ferguson perseveres, proving herself to be a dynamic artist who can sing practically anything. 

Rebecca Ferguson

If you live in the States and couldn't wait for the U.S. release, I should tell you that the U.S. version does feature all 10 original tracks PLUS a Eg White-produced bonus song called "Backtrack."  While the retro-infused up-tempo number does fit perfectly in with the rest of the album, it wouldn't necessarily make me want to buy it again...although I did impulsively pre-order it prior to listening to the new song.  Live and learn.

While overall, Heaven is a solid album, the one negative for me is album flow.  When I'm listening to an album, I like a seamless flow from song to song.  I prefer ballads next to ballads and up-tempo next to up-tempo. Call me crazy, but I find too much tempo jumping to be jarring for the listener.  Maybe this isn't a realistic concern, considering how few albums I've listened to where all of the slow songs are bundled together separately from all of the fast songs.  I don't know, but I find the flow to be a bit disjointed.  

That being said, I was pleased with the overall sound consistency of the album.  Sure, the songs are made up of a variety of genres, from pop and jazz to soul and R&B - but each song carries that same old school, retro-vibe.  There's nothing more irritating to me than an album that sounds like a grab bag of musical styles.  Consistency is key, even more important than flow and Rebecca Ferguson's debut is consistent from beginning to end. Consistently good.

Check out the video for "Too Good To Lose" BELOW and pre-order Heaven now (iTunes US/Amazon) before it's available on Tuesday May 29th.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I cannot wait to hear this tomorrow! I have been looking forward to the record ever since it was announced. Been listening to "Glitter & Gold" in the mean time to hold myself over.

May 28, 2012 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger Jamie Sward said...

YES! Flawless performance. Thanks for the comment!

May 28, 2012 at 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rebecca is a gem! I've been following her online since her moving audition for XFactor. Wonderful to see the growth and her success. Happy that the US will finally get to know her and hopefully love her.

May 31, 2012 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Jamie Sward said...

Thanks for your comment. I too have been following her since the beginning. Can't wait to hopefully see her live sometime soon in the states!

May 31, 2012 at 10:15 PM  

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