How do you follow up an album that you spent your whole life
writing? If you’re Alicia Keys, you do a little bit of the
same but with a little less than a lifetime to replicate the
original. The pressure of an already overrated debut looming, Keys
knows that she has much to live up to, however unfair those
expectations are. That in mind, she launches into the familiar.

Mira Levitan

With an audacious title and introduction that flirts with
self-importance, it’s clear that this is an ambitious album.
Her fusion and hopping between various genres — which made
her so popular and captured the ears and wallets of fans worldwide
— is on display yet again. From “Heartburn,”
which is a bit of throwback funk, to the piano-drenched classic
soul of the lead single, “You Don’t Know My
Name,” she is still reaching across the spectrum.

Her technical talent is obvious, but what also becomes clear as
the album plays out is her lack of songwriting ability. At her most
bizarre she talks about her medulla oblongata being electrified,
but more often it’s just flat. There is a feeling of
redundancy in the writing displayed on the album, especially when
compared to Songs in A Minor. “When You Really Love
Someone” sounds like a diet version of “A Woman’s
Worth” from her first album in both melody and lyrics. Beside
the Kanye West-produced lead single, nothing is immediately
grabbing and her attempts at concept songs don’t particularly
work either. “Samsonite Man” and “Dragon
Days” come off as trite and disposable.

She seems to have set a tonal quality to her sound and it almost
backs her into a corner. It becomes the “Alicia Keys”
sound and it stagnates into mood music. Keys clearly has found her
niche in the popular music scene, but she’s not quite there
artistically. As a disciple of the singer-songwriter tradition, she
is trying to find her own unique voice, but realistically it
wouldn’t be the worst thing if she decided to outsource some
more of the writing, since that is when her album is at its
strongest. When the pressure is on, artists usually resort to
internal material. Moving away from the overly personal concept of
diary entries to a more extroverted style of music would do wonders
for Keys.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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