Rebecca Ferguson’s first album, Heaven, blew in like a summer breeze in the freezing winter of 2011. What made the Liverpudlian’s debut stand out was not so much the quality of her voice – although it was undeniably big and infectious – but rather that, as an X Factor alumnus, she actually seemed to have something worthwhile to say. As such, it gives me no pleasure to say that the follow up, Freedom, sounds insipid; more Magic FM than, well, magic.
Previously, Ferguson had succeeded in conveying personal struggles through bright, muscular soul melodies. This time around, however, she has simply given us 12 slices of inoffensive R’n’B, apparently "inspired by her babies". The vocal quality has nosedived too. Song after song is belted out with a sledgehammer force reminiscent of Heather Small's later work. Even where John Legend lends a hand on “Bridges” the effect is overblown and syrupy. And the closest Ferguson gets to the lightness of touch she showed on Heaven is the opener “All That I’ve Got”.
What’s so frustrating is how many of the songs – "Wonderful World" is a good example – start off so promisingly, but then descend into over-produced mulch. One wonders if Ferguson arrived at the studio with a bag full of interesting ideas which progressively got stripped bare thanks to a production committee's idea of commercial success. Or maybe it's just that a trip on the carousel of success – and a romantic liason One Direction’s Zayn Malik – has dimmed Ferguson’s star.