How Big How Blue How Beautiful
Rebecca Ferguson is arguably a one-woman advert for the continued existence of The X Factor.
For all of the largely justified contempt directed at evil, cynical Simon and his karaoke empire, it is undeniable that Ferguson, the Scouse single mother who finished runner-up to Matt Cardle in the 2010 series, is a rare, maverick talent, and one who was unlikely to have emerged without the talent-show TV spotlight.
Ferguson's debut album, 2011's Heaven, sold more than one million copies, and this follow-up deserves to mirror its success. It's a plucky, flawed but undeniably engrossing document that marries old-school Motown-style soul, lyrical soul-baring and club-friendly production to frequently beguiling effect.
Amidst the record's high-tech gloss, there is something very real and likeable about Ferguson. I Hope bids farewell to an abusive ex-lover while also fondly wishing him well: it is conflicted, as real life invariably is. Fake Smile finds her sighing for another failed affair, but doing so without resorting to vacuous cliché: "He took the piss, because I let him," she concludes.
Freedom is far from a perfect artefact. Too many songs, such as All That I've Got and My Best, sound like glossy filler. But it captures an individualistic artist developing – and you hope and suspect that her best is yet to come.