VINE VOICEon 27 December 2011
Rebecca Ferguson certainly doesn't fail to impress on this, 'Heaven', her debut album. In fact, for much of the time, the songs subtle hooks, in addition to Rebecca's wonderfully soulful voice, is truly addictive over repeated listens, in a way that's truly hard to believe she could have anything remotely to do with a show like the X-Factor.
The songs are all soul based, and have a strong connection to 60s/70s soul, which was before the over emoting Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey sickly sugar coated approximation of soul became such a high profile, and ultimately such a gross marketing ploy in the 1980s, and beyond. That is pretty much where many of the more typical Cowell protegees are truly at, but thankfully, not Rebecca.
Many of these songs are incredibly strong, in terms of their composition, their instrumentation, and most strikingly Rebecca's wonderfully heartfelt vocals. Some of the songs are a little more contemporary sounding in some ways, in terms of their production, yet this never overwhelms the true nature of the emotions Rebecca is expressing. In fact, lyrically 'Heaven' is really rather striking because it goes so far against the grain of many of more obviously typical 'love' song cliches. There is a strong autobiographical flavour running throughout, which ties in nicely with the fact that Rebecca has had a hand in the writing of all these songs. In most of the songs, and including 'Glitter & Gold', 'Shoulder To Shoulder', 'Fighting Suspicions', and 'Teach Me How To Be Loved' there is a strong sense of Rebecca yearning to reach out and touch something a little more pure and genuine, often in the name of 'love', rather than the superficial, which is actually really rather moving. To Rebecca's credit, she never takes a false turn vocally, she never sounds contrived, like so many of her contempories, or tries to over elaborate by using vocal technicalities, or range. She is a breath of fresh air, and so pure and natural, and ultimately so believeable. Rebecca really does sound like she's living these songs, and listening to the album, one senses you are almost in touching distance to Rebecca, the person, and not just a more typical (plastic) pop star personna. This aspect of her is, perhaps, the area she shares most strongly with the late, great Amy Winehouse (apart from the obvious similar primary musical influences), and it's a very very rare talent, indeed, she has.
Perhaps not everything on 'Heaven' works so wonderfully well. I feel the final three tracks, 'Run Free', 'Diamond To Stone', and 'Too Good To Lose', find Rebecca recording songs that are perhaps not truly her forte. There is a lighter clubby feel to these songs that is a little more reminiscent of the Dina Carroll style of soul. Yes, they are successful, because Rebecca is such a wonderfully interpretive singer, and she can handle almost anything, yet these songs, i feel, aren't her true forte. They are perhaps a little more bland, and maybe a little too pedestrian, too. However, to put things in perspective, many of her contempories would simply die for these tracks/performances alone, such is the effectiveness of Rebecca's wonderfully effective vocal.
'Heaven' is a great album overall, wonderfully moving in a lyrical, and an emotional sense for much of the time. There is also a subtelty also to be found in terms of the way Rebecca sings these songs, in terms of her never cheapening her art by over emoting, and always remaining sincere, in a way that can really become profound, for the listener, over repeated listens. Honesty, and sincerity, is something that is so very hard to find in today's hyped up pop scene, where true talent just seems so incredibly rare. Rebecca, happily proves most convincingly and most conclusively, to be a rare exception to that rule. Top marks for herself vocally, and for much of the material. Only on three occasions do i question whether the effectiveness of the material truly matches up to her own greatness as a singer.