Review Summary: This pop gem is a breezy and soulful tribute to the 60's.
It's easy to compare Rebecca Ferguson to her peers. She's a former reality show contestant from the UK who sings pop songs with soul and jazz influences. While the similarities aren't always bad, lumping Ferguson into the same boat as Adele, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Leona Lewis is an injustice to all of them. Ferguson may not have the range of Lewis, or the bad-girl-snarl of the late Winehouse, but she does have soul, and she has it in spades.
is what a pop album should be. Rather than putting all the strength of Ferguson behind one or two powerhouse hit singles, Heaven
instead gives us 10 tracks that could each stand alone, yet still fit into one coherent album. "Nothing's Real But Love," the opening track of the album, begins with a simple, understated guitar quietly setting the mood as Ferguson introduces the world to her voice. Her voice is smoky, soulful, and understated. "Nothing's Real But Love" begins with Ferguson singing softly, and slowly but surely crescendos into Ferguson belting at the climax of the song. Ferguson has expert control over her voice- the crescendo is subtle and organic.
Without a doubt, Ferguson's greatest strengths are her control and her restraint. Most singers at her stage of life (read: first album) from her background (read: reality show) try to show the full limit of their abilities every time they sing- how loud they can belt, how high they can sing, how many notes they can squeeze into one breath. Ferguson uses her belt, her upper range, and melisma (the singing of multiple notes on a single syllable) sparingly- in doing so, it makes the moments when she does all the more special. The track "Run Free" is a powerhouse, and one of the few such tracks on the album. In the second half of the album, when Ferguson belts "I wanna run free" with her full chest voice, it's liberating.
As with many female vocalists today, Ferguson cites Aretha Franklin as a primary influence, and it shows. Franklin has an innate understanding of how to sing lyrics, which Ferguson demonstrates time after time on this album. She knows exactly how to enunciate words to get the greatest meaning out of them, and she never uses too much melisma- just enough to bare her soul to the listener. "One foot onto the ice / I hold my breath / and try to believe" she croons in the opening of "Teach Me How To Be Loved," laying her fear and uncertainty on the line so effortlessly.
The instrumentation is as classic as Ferguson's voice- a 1960s era R&B band with the good sense to let the vocals take center stage. The guitars, drums, horns, and piano only exist to elevate Ferguson. With austere arrangements, or toe-tapping dance grooves, the music sounds like a band who has been touring in support of Ferguson for years, completely comfortable with her voice.
With all its strengths, Heaven is not without faults. Often, the maturity of Ferguson's voice is at odds with the lyrics, which, at times, can be juvenile. The lyrics aren't a study in introspection, and they only tell adequate stories, but they're solid enough to be enjoyable, given the album's other strengths.
Heaven is a wonderful little pop gem that is transplanted from another era. Perfectly paced, and at times, breathtakingly beautiful, it would be a shame if Rebecca Ferguson gets lost among her crowd of contemporaries. With her beautiful voice and exceptional delivery, Rebecca Ferguson is a star ready to shine.