Given the fact that the X Factor runner-up has gone on to sell more records than the winner every year for the last FIVE years (sorry to rub it in, Ray Quinn), it’s hard to imagine Rebecca Ferguson being particularly inconsolable when she gracefully accepted a second-place finish behind Matt Cardle twelve months ago.
She’s the one from last year’s Top 5 who’s taken the most time in bringing out her debut opus. Mary Byrne rush-released a covers album in March, Cher Lloyd over-excitedly made us all victims of ‘Swagger Jagger’ in June and One Direction stole Matt Cardle’s thunder by releasing just a few weeks before him in September. But then, R-Fergz has had a lot more artistic license with her record than any of her co-stars. For all Cardle’s harping on about “credibility this, singer-songwriter that”, his début album was criminally over-produced and consequently ended up too much of a Heart FM beige-fest.
For Ferguson, it’s been gruelling sit-downs with songwriting overlord Eg White, the man who bought out the best in Adele (‘Chasing Pavements’), Duffy (‘Warwick Avenue’) and Will Young (‘Leave Right Now’), and the result is spectacular. Heaven, despite its lack of potential “big hit singles”, is soulful, heartfelt and utterly breathtaking. Opened by ‘Nothing’s Real But Love’, a kitchen-sink-free gem of optimism, it completes its ten-track run without a single addition that falls short of amazing.
If forced to pick out highlights, ‘Shoulder To Shoulder’ is worthy of acclaim for its restrained anguish, ‘Fairytale (Let Me Live My Life This Way)’ for sheer sass, and ‘Fighting Suspicions’ for sounding like a both Bond theme and the accompaniment to a classic Film Noir all at the same time. As for ‘Teach Me How To Be Loved’, good luck avoiding a lump in the throat.
Performances like ‘Make You Feel My Love’ on X Factor last year proved Rebecca had the voice for big things, but here we’re shown an incredible knack for songwriting well. As with the Adele album, there will be those who prefer their music with more bells on; but, honestly, Heaven is without flaw. She won’t achieve the sales figures managed by her more youth-friendly predecessors Olly Murs and JLS, but in terms of artistic ability Ferguson could be the best talent show discovery since… ever?