Since its release late last year, much has been written about X-Factor 2010 runner-up Rebecca Ferguson‘s debut album Heaven. Some critics have hailed it as the greatest X-Factor export of all-time, lavishing the 25 year old with praise and crowning her the first credible star to emerge from reality television. Riding the vintage wave that’s been in vogue for the best part of a decade, the album’s commercial performance has thus far reflected its critical success, selling close to 500,000 copies in just over two months – and in the process turning Ferguson into a disarmingly legitimate homegrown soul voice.
Much has been made of Ferguson’s insistence on co-writing every song on the album – noble sure, but this praise is slightly misguided. Perhaps Heaven‘s biggest weakness is the songwriting, and more specifically, the lyrics, which are frequently weak and very occasionally trite beyond belief. Lead single “Nothing’s Real But Love” is perhaps the best example of this – cliched and meaninglessly saccharine fluff with all the depth of a paddling pool.
The track sets the album off and is perhaps its lowest point – after this, it can and does only get better. “Glitter and Gold,” the track which follows is an immediate improvement – sure, it’s a predictably cautionary note against material obsession and there’s references to “losing your soul” but still, the song features an outstanding bridge and she sounds fantastic on it.
Like the bulk of X-Factor exports (Jedward apart), this young lady can really sing. Unlike most of her peers though, her gifts are more than merely technical. Rebecca Ferguson, not dissimilarly to an Adele or an Amy Winehouse, can sell her songs on the strength and quality of her voice alone.
For all her deficiencies as a songwriter, Ferguson’s vocals are beyond reproach here – faultless and masterful, her vocal tone is laden with vintage warmth and exudes genuine class. More importantly though, she’s got that elusive vocal quality, bonafide soul, in spades. If credibility in this genre is about sincerity, then Ferguson deserves at least some of plaudits that have come her way.
Second single “Too Good To Lose,” which closes the relatively short album (featuring only ten tracks in just 34 minutes), is perhaps the highlight, showcasing everything that Ferguson does well.
Produced and co-written by Adele collaborator Eg White (who, it should be noted, also worked on “Nothing’s Real But Love”), it features a rousing chorus, a sincere and soulful vocal and surprisingly modern pop production that just about tips its hat enough to the past to perfectly compliment Ferguson’s vocal tone. It’s current but still a class above the formulaic norm, positioning Ferguson above some of her pop peers.
All things considered, Heaven is a frustrating piece of work – full of merit and potential, the album is ultimately held back by predictable songwriting littered with cliches. Putting that one major gripe aside for a moment, at just ten tracks, it stands as a brilliantly cohesive body of work; flawlessly sequenced (they even get the worst track out of the way first) and tight enough that it leaves the listener wanting more.
Ferguson’s voice throughout is, as expected, breathtaking: at once soulful, warm, textured and controlled – she might not be able to match the vocal theatrics of say, Leona Lewis, but her music is perhaps the better for it. If you can forgive the lyrics, Heaven is an enjoyable listen – by no means timeless, but certainly worthwhile.