Earlier this year Alicia Keys announced that she was returning with a new album before the next decade rolled in. To be honest, after listening to the half great-half boring As I Am released in 2007, I anticipated nothing. Her first single, Doesn’t Mean Anything, failed to set the American charts alight. People referred to it as a drab No One wannabe. Things were not looking good for Keys, so the label pushed the album back by two weeks and tried another single, the AMAZING Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart.
Stand out tracks
Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart
Brilliant. It has a slight 80s feel, touching lyrics, and great vocals. This song is very popular, so there is great chance that you will like it. Even people like myself who have never bought an AK album fell in love with this track from first listen, from the first chords.
Wait Til You See My Smile
Another instant classic. This and TSWABH are the stand out tracks. They both stray from the highly commercialised music on the radio today, and succeed. She holds a beautiful note on the chorus, which only features two lines of lyrics, and it creates the perfect image of people in love where there is no need for extravagance. So simple but very effective.
Empire State of Mind (Part 2) Broken Down
An excellent new take on Jay-Z’s smash hit original which featured Keys. When it says ‘broken down’ it really means it. 85% or more of the song is Keys and her piano, only bringing more production in the final moments. This is an empowerment song for people worldwide, even though the vocals might seem as though it is strictly for New Yorkers. Listening to this track brings back memories/thoughts of your home town and what makes it great and unique.
That’s How Strong My Love Is
It starts quite slow and predictable- Keys sings along with a piano. Then the harmonies build up, the runs begin and a crescendo flows until the end. Not as strong as the last tracks, and I can see myself skipping it from time to time.
Like The Sea
Her soft vocals ride the music like a wave, but she almost starts straining her voice again. This song borders on good and average territory, but I like how she relates love to the ocean, so I’ll place it in this group.
Distance and Time
Her voice is lovely on here, and she leaves the straining behind, choosing to stay in comfortable vocal range. The spoken introduction is cheesy, but when she starts singing you forget about it.
How It Feels To Fly
It starts slightly average but builds up into something special when a choir and voice effects are brought in for some variation.
Put It In A Love Song
The only feature on the record is Beyonce Knowles. This song sounds like it would suit Beyonce’s latest record, I Am…Sasha Fierce instead of this record, which is slightly disappointing. I do like that album, but the song does not flow well with Keys’ record. The drums are infectious, but the chorus still slightly lacks that extra POW to make it a classic collaboration. After the disappointing Beyonce and Lady Gaga collaborations, it is a relief that they have not copied and pasted Beyonce onto this record. They clearly spent time blending them together, and it works well. Beyonce should have used softer vocals because at the beginning I think she sounds quite tacky, but maybe Sasha took over and kicked Beyonce out of the studio.
The Element of Freedom (Intro)
Nothing to write home about. Unlike her piano intros on past albums, she says a few words and announces the album’s name- it only lasts for 13 seconds. It is nice, but it feels quite lazy.
Unthinkable (I’m Ready)
I did not dislike it, but when it ended I felt nothing. Unlike TSWABH and WTYSMS, I felt not desire to replay it again. It was a good song, but nothing more. When it ended, it ended. The end.
Love Is My Disease
I love the hint of reggae, but Keys’ vocals shifted the song into average territory. She is experienced enough to know when she straining her voice. I got used to the straining on No One, so I will probably train myself to ignore it again…It still leaves my throat feeling slightly sore on her behalf. If she had remained in her vocal range, this song would be good enough to be shifted into the top category.
Another average song that could have been sung by anybody. It has a slightly funky beat, but I still felt nothing when the song ended. Completely forgettable.
Doesn’t Mean Anything
This song just lacks the oomph factor, so I do not understand why on earth they decided to make it the first single. It is like a lacklustre No One, showing it probably belongs on the last album. The rest of the songs feel like fresh material, so this song should have been left in the studio or leaked online for free. Either way, it felt dead months ago, and has not improved much over time.
Without a doubt this album is great, and it will definitely be the first Alicia Keys album I will buy. If you bought As I Am and felt yourself falling asleep, this album will wake you up. Whatever Keys started doing this year, she should keep up forever because her material is back on top, even though her diehard fans would probably say she never faltered in the first place. I admire her for pushing her voice to its maximum potential, but she goes beyond this into very uncomfortable territory- straining ensues and your ears beg for mercy. However, she only does this from time to time, so it should not ruin your listening experience, just tarnish it a bit.
If I could only choose three songs, I would definitely buy Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart, my favourite track Wait Til You See My Smile, and Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down. If the entire album had been like these songs, it would be a classic in my eyes. Sadly it gets more and more ‘been there done that’ as you get deeper into the record.