Offering a plainer, more stripped-back and honest image, Leon's sophomore album may not be as accomplished as her 2019 breakout, but it's still something worth listening to.
As an album about nostalgia, longing and heartbreak, Apart absolutely delivers on its chosen themes. Combining a stripped-back musicality with vulnerable lyricism and LEON‘s stellar voice, it’s hard not to be caught up in the music and really taken on a sense of journeying through the pain that the album sets out to accomplish. While the album sometimes flounders in its execution and fails to set itself uniquely apart from LEON’s debut album, what we are offered is still a touching intimacy of eleven songs that never had me reaching for the skip button.
Opening with ‘Head and Heart on Fire’, the album starts softly with a focus on the acoustic guitar, LEON’s voice and the lyrics. The song is beautiful, and sets the pace excellently for what to expect from the album, even if it suffers from an overabundance of genericness. It’s soft and drowsy,but serves well in leading us into one of the album’s greatest songs, ‘And it Breaks My Heart’. Starting with a stringed instrument and a “filmic” quality, the song soon launches once again into another strumming of the guitar but this time backed with a punchier beat, establishing a more pop-centric sound. What’s important about the songs “filmic’ quality is because there’s a general sense of LEON telling a story with her lyrics, steeped in those same themes of longing and heartbreak and it just stands out.
It’s this very same sense of musicality and storytelling that help to go on and define other songs like ‘In A Stranger’s Arms’ and ‘Who You Lovin’. Both demonstrate LEON’s strong ability at penning melancholy lyrics that don’t get too lost in emotion due to the catchy pop sound running along behind it. Both of these are upbeat tunes that I found stood out against the ballads that make up the rest of Apart. They help stimulate a sense of life in her music despite their themes, and help the album feel a tad more varied. In fact, they exemplify LEON’s talent and comfortable ease with writing more pop-focused songs, something which the album sadly doesn’t seem to contain enough of.
At times, LEON seems to test the waters of her music, with songs like ‘Crazy/Stupid’ leaning into a more stylised approach to her usual formula. While it lacked some of the finesse I would have hoped for, it’s again the variation that helps make it appreciated within the album. It highlights this idea that listening to LEON isn’t a dull quiet experience, but one teeming with personality, musicality and storytelling that helps derives this sense of uniqueness within her music. Even when a song fails to land its mark, it doesn’t feel like a write-off in the slightest.
Of course, on an album like this, we can’t ignore the slower ballads either, something that both completes and paradoxically hounds the album. From ‘Falling Apart’ to the album’s titled song ‘Apart’ the ballads on the album are almost haunting and beautiful. ‘Apart’ is thankfully the most accomplished ballads on the album but is sadly haunted by a painful simplicity. Admittedly, this gives time for its lyrics to pull listeners in but there just never feels enough to really make it stand out as far as ballads go. While on the other hand ‘Falling Apart’ has a lyrical dullness that is only really bolstered by a more sound musicality. It’s a shame because there are the foundations for a really strong ballad clearly shown throughout, but each song seems to lack a vital part that other songs execute to near perfection that LEON never finds her footing as precisely as she did in her debut or earlier discography.
One song that did stand out though and deserves a final shout is ‘Die For You’. From the moment it started up it became instantly recognisable as a sound that I associate with LEON. It’s excellently paced and has a sense of building grandeur that works in drawing you in before it blasts out its chorus and because an unapologetic romp of professing the extremes we would go for the ones we love. It’s a really great song, and I’m sure it’ll become a staple of the album for many listeners.
As a sophomore album, it’s nothing to scoff at. I’ve had a great time listening to Apart and I can’t wait to see what’s in store down the line for LEON. This may not be the album that stops everyone in their tracks, but it’s another relatively strong outing for a growing singer that will surely earn her praise down the line.
Apart is out today via LEON Recordings. Check out ‘Head And Heart On Fire’ down below.