Multiple delays have done nothing to dull the power of Alicia Keys’ latest album, ‘ALICIA’, but instead recent events have rendered it an especially powerful and timely release.
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It’s not so often that you see an artist putting out a self-titled album as their seventh release – most singers will cut to the chase and do that on their debut.
But if there’s anybody in the music business who deserves to do things her own way, it’s Alicia Keys. Ever since she arrived on the scene with Songs in A Minor in 2001, Keys has continued to establish her dominance on the radio time and again, from providing the early ‘00s with some of their most ubiquitous singles (“Fallin’,” “Karma,” “If I Ain’t Got You”), to giving New York City its most prominent anthem in 30 years (“Empire State of Mind”), and finally proving she has life in her yet with a series of late-career hits (“Girl on Fire,” “Us”).
Stream: ‘ALICIA ‘ – Logic
Hope you enjoyed that quick refresher because looking into the past is not something Keys is too game on herself, inasmuch as she insists that “no, we can’t rewind, life ain’t no time machine.” This line comes from one of the lead singles that were released almost a year ago when it looked like ALICIA (September 18, 2020 via RCA Records) was all set for an early 2020 release. Yet even after the album became subject to several pandemic-driven delays, “Time Machine” still sounds remarkably fresh. The bopping retro-funk beat, cooked up by Keys and her guest producer Rob Knox, remains energizing, as does the song’s encouraging message to ‘go and free your mind,’ given that ‘there’s beauty in everything‘ once you are able to do so.
More positive altruism comes along on the next single to be released from ALICIA, the hugely uplifting “Underdog.” Given the considerable hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, a heartwarming anthem of this nature comes across as even more poignant than it was when it first saw the light of the day at the start of 2020. Nowadays, it’s far more than ‘the hustlers trading at the bus stop’ and ‘single mothers waiting on a check to come‘ who can take comfort in being told that ‘you’ll find that someday soon enough, you will rise up, rise up….’
On the rest of ALICIA, its author makes room for sociopolitical commentary and her signature brand of love-is-complicated songs. One of the best of the latter category is “Gramercy Park,” named for a private patch of green in Keys’ native Manhattan. This time around, it’s someone else who’s “fallin’”- Keys describes the trials of ‘trying to fulfill you with your every need,’ only to find that the love interest she was courting is now ‘fallin’ for a person that’s not even me.’
Her romantic fortunes improve elsewhere on the record, such as on “Show Me Love,” on which she and Miguel demonstrate their joint affection for one another every bit as convincingly as she and Usher did on “My Boo” all those years ago. Keys also enters political mode on songs like “Authors of Forever,” a beautifully sung piece that pleads for the people to take control of their own destiny. She offers a fresh reminder to us all that: “We are on born on our own, and we die on our own, and we’re here to make meaning’ of what happens in between.”
While much of ALICIA is impressively upbeat, Keys closes out the record with a handful of slow burners. Surprisingly enough, some of the most outspoken lyrical content appears on these gentle keyboard numbers. “Perfect Way to Die” offers some startling imagery of urban protests carried out in response to ‘another dream lost’-just think of how many individuals can fill in the space of that ‘dream’ at this point- while “Good Job” reminds us all to be thankful of all the people who make small yet vital contributions to the lives of others. Like much of the rest of the album, these last couple songs were presumably written some time in 2019, yet have become especially pertinent given the way in which 2020 has played out. Great art sure does have a way of gaining even more meaning and impact as time goes on.
The bottom line is that Alicia Keys still has an incredible voice and has lost none of her ability to craft moving piano ballads. If you’ve recognized and appreciated that much previously, there’s no reason to resist coming back for more on ALICIA.
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? © Milan Zrnic
ALICIA – Alicia Keys