The Hits

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The only genuine star to emerge from the BBC's short-lived Fame Academy, London-born Lemar has racked up an impressive number of Brit Awards, MOBOS, and platinum albums during his seven-year career. Following on from Girls Aloud and Will Young, he became the third U.K. talent show contestant to release a singles compilation, no mean feat in itself, considering how many contestants quickly disappear into obscurity. Hits, featuring ten Top 40 tracks, isn't as inventive as Girls Aloud or as consistent as Will Young, but like both acts, he still emphasizes how his manufactured beginnings are now all but forgotten. Released at a time when Craig David's career was fizzling out, his debut single "Dance (With U)," with its disco strings, funky bass, and Lemar's raspy, soulful vocals, immediately signaled that there was a new King of British R&B on the horizon. the follow-ups, a neo-soul-inspired "50/50" and an overblown Daniel Bedingfield pastiche, "Another Day," didn't quite have the same spark, but it was with "If There's Any Justice," that Lemar undoubtedly took the crown. A glorious piece of authentic retro-soul that sounds like a lost Al Green classic, it's arguably his most enduring single to date. But ultimately, its success led to a slew of pale imitations ("It's Not That Easy," "Someone Should Tell Her") that sounded like Lemar was stuck in a creative rut. By the time the old-school ballads were eschewed in favor of subtle electro-R&B ("If She Knew," "Weight of the World"), the record-buying public seemed to have lost interest. However, the several new tracks included here appear to have unexpectedly injected some life into his career. Recent single "The Way Love Goes," a rather formulaic piece of Taio Cruz-style dance-pop, has given him his biggest hit in four years; the Kim Wilde sampling "You Don't Love Me," is the funnest record he's made since his debut, while a re-recorded version of "What About Love," featuring vocals from latest X-Factor phenomenon JLS, neatly bring things full circle. Losing out to David Sneddon might not have been the most auspicious start, but despite its occasional lapses into derivativeness, Hits is a solid body of work that ultimately proves it's not the winning that counts.

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