Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Album Review: Alicia Keys "The Element Of Freedom"

Alicia Keys' music has always taken me a little time to get into. I didn't really become a fan until her second album came out & even "No One" took me a little getting used to, so looking back, it doesn't surprise me that I didn't fall in love with her first two singles "Doesn't Mean Anything" & "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart" right away. That said, I've come to appreciate both of their unique strengths. In fact, because of all this, I spent a little extra time with Alicia's fourth album The Element Of Freedom before reviewing it. I think the extra time did some good, although probably not as much as I had initially hoped for.

Kicking off The Element Of Freedom is a short intro named after the album followed by "Love Is Blind." A very strong way to start off the record, the song is reminiscent of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak, which is not a bad thing. First single "Doesn't Mean Anything" is up next & despite being very pretty, it takes Alicia to the edge of her range, although that more or less takes away from her live performances of the song rather than the studio recording of it. The follow-up single "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart" follows & doesn't really have any flaws to speak of--unless you count the fact that, for me, it's most definitely a grower that I had to be patient with to appreciate. "Wait 'Til You See My Smile" is alright, with its biggest asset being the "Empire State Of Mind"-esque 'oo's throughout.

The first of a couple throwaways is the snoozefest "That's How Strong My Love Is." The passionate "Unthinkable (I'm Ready)" is--if not all the way--better. Alicia's vocals interpret "Love Is My Disease" really well & help the track stand out. Unfortunately, "Like The Sea" also stands out... as another one I could do without. Beyonce helps Ms. Keys get back on track with "Put It In A Love Song." The no-doubt Sasha Fierce-influenced thumper brings some life into the project & is a very nice display of two soulful ladies on their A-game.

Another track Alicia experiments on vocally is "This Bed," the results of which are also good. I would have to give "Distance & Time" an OK though. Both lyrically & structurally, this ballad has a cliche 'element' to it that I simply don't like; there are times when Alicia just gets a bit too commercial for my taste (see also: "Superwoman") when I'm looking for something more original from someone as creative as she. Case-in-point: the closer (effectively) "How It Feels To Fly." It's signature Alicia, it's beautiful, & it's not something you've heard a million times. I can't forget about "Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down," one of the album's highlights, though. This smooth, rap-less version features the best of the original & even more.

As you can tell, The Element Of Freedom is a little hit-&-miss from my perspective. What's funny is when I first heard the album, I thought it was all slow songs & that if I just dug a little deeper into each one, I would fall in love. The more I listened, I realized that some tracks weren't actually ballads... they were just boring. However, there are enough good songs & positive displays of growth to make the album a worthwhile listen, especially for Alicia Keys fans.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

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