It's hard to miss the declaration of independence within the title of I Am, Leona Lewis' first album recorded outside the confines of Simon Cowell's Syco Music. Separating from the machine that turned her into a star, Lewis seizes this fourth album as a vehicle to redefine her sound, ditching much (but not all) of the glassy gauze of "Bleeding Love" and throwing herself into a buoyant bounce somewhat inspired by the reigning British diva of the late 2010s, Adele. Lewis is canny, though. She may often trade in the same Tamla/Motown rhythms that define new millennial neo-soul -- a sound that also surfaced on her ebullient 2013 seasonal affair, Christmas, With Love -- but she and her team of producers (often led by Toby Gad but featuring several other musicians) are keenly aware of various club and EDM trends, so they're given a digital sparkle that entices, not blinds. Similarly, the slower showcases for her volcanic voice seem somewhat built to scale, opting for modulated melodrama over a full-force gale. Such a measured production means I Am appeals on a pure sonic level, eclipsing the often monolithic glare of Spirit and Glassheart, but the songs here, largely co-written by Lewis and Gad with other collaborators, are her strongest compositions, sharply crafted and passionate enough to earn the elemental allusions apparent on the opening "Thunder" and "Fire Under My Feet." If I Am does indeed open a new chapter for Leona Lewis, this album suggests it will be more intriguing than the first: she's learned how to harness her natural skills and has broadened her palette, a combination that results in her best album yet.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine