Spirit is the debut studio album by British singer-songwriter Leona Lewis, released by Syco Music in November 2007 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, followed by a worldwide release during early 2008. After winning the third series of reality singing contest The X Factor in December 2006, Lewis began recording the album in Sweden, UK and the United States, working with a variety of writers and producers. Critics praised the album for creating a contemporary album using such a variety of producers, and for showcasing Lewis's voice, though criticised her "lack of personality". The release of the album marked Lewis as the first winner of a major television talent show in both the UK and US to be given a major global launch with a debut album.
The album debuted at number one in nine countries, including the United Kingdom, United States and Germany, and peaked in the top five in a further eight countries. It held the record for the biggest digital album sales in a week ever for a new artist. The album was the 6th biggest selling of 2008 in the world, as according to the IFPI. It has gone on to sell over eight million copies worldwide, and was the 4th best-selling album of the 2000s in the UK, where it has since sold over 3 million copies and remains the best-selling debut album by a female artist.
Spirit spawned seven singles, including two from a re-release of the album. Lead international single "Bleeding Love" went on to top the charts in 34 countries, becoming one of the best selling singles by a female of all time. It was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Record of the Year at the 51st Grammy Awards, and British Single at the 2008 BRIT Awards. Follow-up single "Better in Time" also fared well, charting in the top ten in thirteen countries and reaching number eleven in the US. After a well received performance of Snow Patrol's "Run" whilst promoting Spirit, Lewis recorded a studio version for the re-release of the album, Spirit – The Deluxe Edition, which was released as a download only single in the UK, where it charted at number one, going on to be the third platinum selling single from Spirit, following X Factor winner's single "A Moment Like This" and "Bleeding Love".
In December 2006, Lewis won the third series of British reality singing contest, The X Factor, her prize being a £1 million recording contract with Sony BMG, for which Simon Cowell is an A&R executive. Cowell also mentored Lewis on the show. During the live final, Lewis duetted with Gary Barlow of band Take That, who told Cowell, "This girl is probably fifty times better than any other contestant you have ever had, so you have a big responsibility to make the right record with her." Cowell admitted that Barlow's words resonated with him, and thus the decision was made to not rush her debut album, as he wanted an "incredible record" of original material, which he believed could not be done in less than a year. Lewis also wanted a high quality album that she could feel proud of. Cowell told Lewis that he did not care if the album took three years to make, he wanted to get it right.
On 25 April 2007, a press release was sent out revealing that Simon Cowell and Clive Davis, chairman and CEO of J Records, would work together in a first-of-its-kind partnership on both the song and producer selection for the album. Lewis performed a showcase for several American music executives at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Lewis named the album Spirit because "it is my heart and soul and the voice within that says everything is possible." The album originally had a September 2007 deadline, but was delayed due to Lewis suffering from tonsillitis and waiting for producers to become available.
Lewis recorded the album in several locations the first being London, England, where she worked with Steve Mac, who produced the songs "Homeless" and "Footprints in the Sand". "Homeless" was written by Jörgen Elofsson, and was previously recorded by Swedish singer Darin. "Footprints in the Sand" was written by Per Magnusson, David Kreuger, Richard Page and Simon Cowell. The song is an adaptation of the Christian poem "Footprints", and Lewis commented "Originally it was a poem; it's very inspirational so we put it into a song. I think it is very moving, with a very emotional lyric and I really love to sing this song". Cowell came up with the idea to base a song around the poem, and asked Kreuger and Magnusson whether they could write something dealing with this subject. They took the idea to a songwriting session the pair already had scheduled with Page at his home in Malibu, California and they finished the song the following day. When Cowell mentioned the song concept to Lewis, she agreed that it could be "really quite interesting".
In Los Angeles, California, Lewis teamed up with OneRepublic singer Ryan Tedder, with whom she recorded two songs, "Bleeding Love" and "Take a Bow". In February 2007, OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder and pop singer-songwriter Jesse McCartney had written the song "Bleeding Love" for Departure, McCartney's third studio album. However, his record label, Hollywood Records, did not like the song. Tedder believed it was a "massive" song and the record company was "out of their mind". McCartney wanted to keep it for himself as he had a personal attachment to the song, but Tedder felt it would not work for him. Tedder had previously made the decision not to work with contestants from the singing competition American Idol, but he had not heard of The X Factor. After being shown a website about Lewis, he thought that "her voice just sounded unreal," saying that "from a writer's perspective, this girl – with or without a TV show – has one of the best voices I've ever heard." On hearing that Cowell was looking for songs for Lewis's debut album, Tedder rearranged "Bleeding Love", changed the key and tailored it to suit her voice. "Take a Bow" was written and produced by Tedder, Louis Biancaniello, Wayne Wilkins and Sam Watters. Watters and Biancaniello also wrote "Yesterday", with Jordan Omley, Michael Mani, and Nina Woodford. "Better in Time" was recorded in Los Angeles with producer J. R. Rotem, who wrote the song along with Andrea Martin. "I Will Be" is a cover of an Avril Lavigne song, written by Lavigne, Dr. Luke and Max Martin, that was released as an iTunes bonus track and on the Limited edition of her album The Best Damn Thing. "The Best You Never Had" was also record in LA, written and produced by Billy Steinberg and Josh Alexander, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", a cover of the Ewan MacColl song, was recorded in both Atlanta and Los Angeles. It was produced by Wayne Wilkins, Sam Watters and Louis Biancaniello. "I'm You" was recorded in Atlanta with Ne-Yo, "Angel", a Stargate production, was written by Stargate, Espen Lind, Amund Bjørklund and Johnta Austin, and recorded in New York.
Lewis co-wrote "Here I Am" with Walter Afanasieff and Brett James in LA. Lewis wanted to be involved in the writing process, and said that Cowell allowed her to do so as it was "her album". She noted "I've not been given a formula to follow. I had the time to find my feet and co-write a lot of material. I've learned a lot and Simon and Clive really listen to me." In Atlanta, Georgia, Lewis worked with producers Alonzo "Novel" Stevenson and Dallas Austin on the song "Whatever It Takes", which Lewis co-wrote together with Novel and Tony Reyes. In Miami, Florida, Lewis worked with Salaam Remi, and "Forgiveness" was recorded. It was written by Lewis, Remi and Kara DioGuardi. Lewis's debut single, a cover of Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This", is included as a bonus track on releases in the UK, Ireland and Japan. Two new songs were record in 2008 to help the album appeal more to an American audience: "Forgive Me", which was written and produced by Akon, and "Misses Glass" written by Mad Scientist and RockCity. In an interview with Digital Spy, Lewis explained "I wanted to do something a bit different and the chance to work with Akon came about. I'm really pleased with how it's turned out and it's great that it's different, rather than what I always do."
The song features a church organ and synthesised strings prominently, and intermittently integrates wood block percussion throughout the track. A heavy, distorted marching band-like drum loop backs the song.
Commenting on the albums lyrics, Lewis said, "[They] reflect things that I'm really passionate about. I have to be able to put myself in the song for it to ring true to me. If it doesn't ring true to me, it's not going to be believable to anyone else." Lewis described the album's style as "classic songs with a contemporary edge", containing R&B and "fresh pop" styles, ballads and "soulful up-tempo numbers". It has an American style, with some electronic 1980s sounds; however, the songs are not beat-driven or following the latest trends, but are songs that can be performed acoustically.
Opening track "Bleeding Love" employs a church organ which is audible throughout the song until the bridge. Synthesized strings are also prominent throughout the song, which intermittently integrates wood block percussion throughout the track. A heavy, distorted marching band-like drum loop backs the song. McCartney wrote the song about his longtime girlfriend, and said: "I kept thinking about being in love so much that it hurts. I was away from my girlfriend for four months at the time and I really wanted to [quit] and fly home. I was so in love that it was painful. It was like bleeding, it cut me open." The song refers to someone in a relationship who is extremely blinded by love. Regardless of the numerous warnings from her friends and the fact that she is emotionally hurt by her lover, she continues to love him and accepts the pain. Metaphorically, this is represented in his "cutting her open"; however, all she can do is "bleed love" for him. "Whatever It Takes" was described as a "chipper slice of soul-pop, anchored by a surprisingly bone-shaking beat", followed by "Homeless", a "moody piano-heavy trembler" and a "haunting, blues-style ballad". "Yesterday" has been described as "a smoochy R&B slow jam". "Better in Time" is a pop and R&B song set in a moderate tempo. Lyrically the song talks about someone who cannot forget her ex-partner, and at the end the protagonist knows that "it will all get better in time". "Take a Bow" has been described as starting with an "ice-cool synth riff" and having "big, crunchy beats and powerhouse chorus". "I'm You" features "delicate harps, echoey vocals and skittering beats". "Footprints in the Sand", a "massive power ballad", incorporates elements of pop and R&B genres, and contains a gospel production performed by the choir and features "crashing drums". It incorporates keyboard instruments, guitar, bass and includes a choir performance by The Tuff Session Singers. The song is about "standing by someone and being there for people who need your help." "Forgive Me" is an R&B, soul and dance-pop song written in A minor. The song refers to a protagonist in a one-sided relationship who leaves her boyfriend and eventually finds someone to reciprocate her love. Though she has found love from someone else, she defends herself and asks her ex-boyfriend for forgiveness.
The release of the album marked Lewis as the first winner of a major television talent show to be given a global launch with a debut album.Spirit was re-released on 17 November 2008 in the UK following the release of "Forgive Me". It also features "Misses Glass" from the American version of the album, and Lewis's cover of Snow Patrol's "Run". In addition to the extra tracks, the deluxe featured a DVD containing all of Lewis's music videos to date except the video for "Run". The deluxe edition was released on 3 February 2009 in the US, including two out of three of her b-sides as well as the single mix for "Run", which is 34 seconds shorter than the international album version. The accompanying DVD includes all of Lewis's music videos, with the exception of "A Moment Like This", along with a live video of "I Will Be".
Lewis performing "Bleeding Love" as the closing number on The Labyrinth tour in 2010
Syco managing director, Sonny Takhar, initially expected at least five singles to be released from the record, stating "every track is a potential single – we really are spoiled for choice."Spirit spawned seven singles, two of which came from Spirit – The Deluxe Edition. "A Moment Like This" was available as a digital download in the UK and Ireland from midnight on 17 December 2006, after Lewis won the third series of The X Factor, followed by a CD release on 20 December. It became the fastest selling UK single when it was downloaded more than 50,000 times within thirty minutes of release. On 24 December, "A Moment Like This" was crowned the 2006 UK Christmas number-one single, and it stayed at number one in the UK Singles Chart for four weeks and in the Irish Singles Chart for six weeks. It was the second biggest selling single of 2006, behind Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, and went on to be certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry.
"Better in Time" was Lewis's second worldwide single, released in March 2008 in the UK and during spring and summer throughout the rest of the world. In the UK it was released as a double A-side with "Footprints in the Sand", in aid of Sport Relief. The single reached a peak of number two in the UK, and was certified silver by the BPI. It peaked within the top ten in a further thirteen countries, and at number eleven in the Billboard Hot 100. The song received positive reception from critics, and was nominated for British Single at the 2009 BRIT Awards. "Forgive Me" was released between July and November 2008 throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and was the first single from the re-release of Spirit. Critics praised the change in direction for her, although the lyrical content was criticised. It reached number five in the UK, and also peaked within the top ten in Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Turkey.
"Run" was released as a download-only single in the UK and Ireland in November 2008, and later worldwide. Lewis first performed "Run" on the Live Lounge section of The Jo Whiley Show, where artists perform two songs: one song of their own and one by another artist, in an acoustic format. After positive fan reaction Lewis decided to record a studio version for the re-release of her album. Critics praised her version, which spent two weeks atop the UK Singles chart, giving Lewis her third UK number one. It also reached the number one spot in Austria and Ireland, and reached the top ten of Finland, Germany and Switzerland. The finale single "I Will Be" was released in January 2009, only in North America; it peaked at number 66 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 83 in Canada.
Spirit received positive reviews from most music critics upon its release. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 65, based on 13 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".IGN's Chad Grischow described Spirit as the "perfect showcase for [Lewis'] fantastic skills", praising her ability to sing both upbeat tracks and "tender piano ballads". Sarah-Louise James from the Daily Star gave a positive review, saying, "Fans of her sweet, soaring vocals and power ballads won't be disappointed." Chris Elwell-Sutton of the Evening Standard said that Spirit will be "a very successful album with some much-needed grit."Digital Spy's Nick Levine gave the album four out of five stars, claiming that although Lewis had a pallet of different producers working with her, they managed to prevent her from sounding "too fusty or old-fashioned." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said "Lewis can hit those big notes but make it seem easy, never straining her voice and building nicely to the climax. Unlike most divas, there is a human quality to her voice, as she's singing to the song, not singing to her voice." He compared it to Mariah Carey's debut album, but criticised the old-fashioned sound.Popjustice's review was brief, summing up that "[Spirit] has four absolutely blinding tracks on it, three far better than average tracks on it, and some others which are quite good. There are no totally chronic songs on Spirit apart from 'A Moment Like This'."The Boston Globe's Sarah Rodman praised Lewis's ability to make unremarkable songs sound impressive, saying "The tracks are impeccably manicured, super-tuneful, and offer lyrics about the various agonies and ecstasies of love that are unremarkable in and of themselves but reach nuclear-threat levels of desperation thanks to Lewis's voice."
In the mixed reviews critics generally praised Lewis's voice but criticised the music. Lyndsey Winship from BBC Music complimented Lewis's vocal ability but perceived a lack of "hooks, innovation and personality". On Lewis's vocals Robert Christgau commented "The subtle flutter of her finest melismatics could give an open-minded person goose bumps. Her coarser melismatics, however, are the usual showoff BS and probably also a commercial prerequisite, like not having a harelip." Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine praised Lewis's voice but criticised the mixture of styles within the album.The New York Times's Nate Chinen felt the album did not live up to the standards of lead single "Bleeding Love", but was successful in showcasing Lewis's vocal capabilities. Caroline Sullivan of The Guardian was disappointed, saying "[Lewis] has clearly invested every scrap of energy into these songs [...] but being able to belt 'em out is only half the story, and if there's a personality here, it's well hidden." Victoria Segal of The Times praised Lewis's voice, but criticised the music, saying "[Lewis] has a powerful voice but on Spirit it seems to have paralysed her collaborators creatively. Instead of taking the opportunity to craft it into new and exciting shapes, it has been stuck in a big spotlit display case, revolving slowly and rather boringly on a velvet cushion of overstuffed balladry." She concluded by saying, "If Lewis is looking for the greatest love of all – public adoration – she will have to do better than this."
Spirit entered the Irish Albums Chart at number one, making it the fastest selling debut album ever, beating the Arctic Monkeys by a margin of 6,000 sales. The album remained at the top of the chart for two weeks before being knocked off by Shayne Ward's Breathless. It was the biggest selling album in 2007, and the fourth best selling album in 2008. The standard version of the album has been certified seven-times platinum, and the deluxe version four-times platinum. In February 2008, the album debuted at number one on both the Australian ARIA Chart and the New Zealand RIANZ chart and went on to be certified platinum in both territories. In Germany the album spent one week at the top spot, and went on to be certified triple-gold for shipments of 300,000 copies.Spirit also topped the Austrian and Swiss charts, reaching certifications of platinum and double-platinum respectively. It was certified four-times platinum by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry for sales of more than four million copies in Europe.
In the US, Spirit went straight to number one on the Billboard 200, selling 208,607 copies in its first week, which made Lewis the first and only British solo artist to debut at number one with their first album, and the first British female to debut at number one with an album in over twenty years when Sade Adu topped the chart in February 1986 with Promise. As of 30 June 2008 the album has been certified platinum. The album also reached number one in Canada and was certified platinum on 30 May 2008. According to the IFPI, Spirit was the sixth best selling album of 2008, and has gone on to sell over seven million copies worldwide.