Alicia Keys: The Element of Freedom

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Posted September 16, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

aliciakeys00On Keys’ fourth record, she decides to slow it up even more while adding more retro flair to her adult-contemporary soul

Since her defining debut Songs in A Minor, Alicia Keys rose from a budding neo-soul star with Grammy power to pop icon with singer-songwriter creds. It’s a choice that ultimately fits her since her knack of song writing – matched with smart lyricism and unusual pop-meets-retro soul arrangements – opens up newer and larger audiences to her musical playground. Now three albums into her regimen, Keys renders to her loyal fans and supporters The Element of Freedom.

On “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart” and “Love Is Blind,” she incorporates her familiar experiments of synth-meets-acoustic piano with a breakthrough pop sound that echoes the sentiments of ‘80s soft rock, as if she found a way to throw the pop style of into a Phil Collins record. “How It Feels to Fly” poses with melodic brilliance; marked with warm piano lines and simple rhythms. Her rendition of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” minus Jay-Z, plays with piano and light brushes of the cymbal until the second verse dissolves. When the high-energy hip-hop beats kick in, the song is pretty much done. Fans of Jay-Z’s version will gravitate even more to his version while those looking for a John Legend-ish (a la “Ordinary People”) out take, maybe a handful, will probably be receptive of Keys’ take. Probably the brightest spot on The Element, even though there’s a good chunk to pick through, is the club-laden “This Bed.” The cool urban disco beats, resembling the drum machine sounds of Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” give ample support to Keys’ sweet, sexy falsetto. Nothing else on the album resembles this nice made-for-night cruising groove. “Doesn’t Mean Anything” cold be a sibling to “No One” or even “Empire State of Mind.” Simple, pretty pop spice, matched with hypnotic keys and a kicking drum, help elevate the baby love lyrics. While probably single-worthy, it fails to connect with her big, brassy hits of the past. Meanwhile her collaboration with Beyonce on “Put It In a Love Song” feels too much like a desperate response to “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” This time the two divas join forces to get the men to “man-up” to their ladies. Sadly, the grooves are minute when pressed against Beyonce’s high-energy expectations. “ Halfway into the album, some of the selections linger a bit longer on therapeutic “on the beach” sounds (“Wait Til You See My Smile,” “That How Strong My Love Is”); leaving almost no room for a breakout vocal. Vocally, her songs prove to be way too big for her straining voice. The Element is often breezy, more poppy than soulful R&B soulful, but with Keys’ leaning too heavy on AC love ballads and not putting enough vocal charisma into her craft, it gives the album a good dose of listening pleasure but without the gratification of a remarkable record. It just lacks the burning sensations of a single like “You Don’t Know My Name” or “If I Ain’t Got You” – both taken from her sophomore record The Diary of Alicia Keys. Still, The Element is a mesmeric voyage into her song writing abilities; enough confidence to grant a month’s worth of pleasant dreams for Clive Davis.

J MATTHEW COBB

HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 9 Nov 2009
  • Label: J
  • Producers: Jeff Bhasker, Swizz Beatz, Noah “40” Shebib, Alicia Keys, Kerry “Krucial” Brothers
  • Track Favs: This Bed, Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart, Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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