Alicia Keys’ fourth studio album, The Element of Freedom (download here), dropped on December 9, 2009. Perhaps I’m not paying attention to music enough, but seems to me that the album had a slow start in publicity. It’s blowing up now, no doubt, but where was the PR before the drop. Perhaps Alicia was waiting on free publicity. She had a page feature in ELLE’s July 2010 issue (8 months after the album’s release, but anyways, read the article here) that focused on women in music and was highlighted in the 2010 BET Awards show where she gracefully sprawled herself across her revered piano, pregnant with Swizz Beatz’s child.
Let me get passed my hater-ade: Alicia Keys is pregnant with Swizz Beatz child. Swizz Beatz left his wife, Mashonda, for Alicia. My issue: Alicia can have any man in the world that she wants. And she just so happens to want someone else’s husband? This honorary AKA should have to give back her pearls for being so triflin’. But, Mashonda addressed the issue via Twitter, so I’ll let it rest.
I’ll move onto Alicia’s music, but one disclaimer: Artists are artists and their work reflects their innermost selves. So I don’t feel like I should be require to separate Alicia’s personal choices from her final project. If this music is truly expressing her thoughts, emotions and life, then all that means is that the songs are describing the past two years she’s been out of the media’s eye and in Swizz Beatz bed. #ImJustSayin. When I listen to this album, it’s like listening to what the other woman would be saying to my man.
Back to the literal music.
The Element of Freedom, is indeed a very soulful project. The melodies are soothing and the transitions between songs are fluid, making the complete track listing cohesive even with it’s semi-sporadic up beat tracks like “Put it in a Love Song” featuring Beyonce Knowles. Alicia can carry herself but, in my personal opinion, she doesn’t have a powerful voice that strikes you at any given point. There isn’t one song where I stop and say “Wow”. Beyonce blew her out the water. If this was rap, we’d have a conversation about who was better but that isn’t exactly the culture of R&B.
The album is a great listen on a quiet day (or during a bubble bath as I reviewed it). The piano comes in in the first track, but I don’t really give Alicia extra points for playing the piano because there are plenty artists (ahem, Ryan Leslie. Check out Ryan Leslie TV on Youtube to witness the genius.) who play multiple instruments. Alicia plays the piano for a little bit, as requred to maintain her image, but then computerized instruments take over for the rest of the record. The love songs, Alicia’s money makers, are catchy and well written.They are straightforward, basic and relatable. This is an album you don’t have to necessarily listen to. I’ve never said “Man, you gotta listen to this Alicia song. Like, really listen.” She’s great background music.
Alicia is mediocre in my book. She sings okay. She’s no Beyonce. She cannot blow. Counter argument: But Alicia Keys writes her own songs. Shot to Kill: Well, she’s no Erykah Badu or Lauryn Hill. Those women write. Alicia is a good songwriter. She can write songs that are hits. I own Alicia’s book, Tears for Water. I was tempted to play her instrumentals as I read so the words could have a chance of holding my attention.
Overall, The Element of Freedom is alright.