Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Album Review: Alicia Keys - The Element of Freedom (4/5)

Alicia's last album, As I Am, was a critic favorite who praised the album for its sleek old school sound, however it failed the leave any lasting impressions on me. Considering the top-notch quality of her first two albums, Songs in a Minor and The Diary of Alicia Keys, which have gone on to be some of the best of the decade, I was pretty disappointed, the whole project seemed rushed and unfinished.

However on her fourth album, The Element of Freedom, Keys takes a more subtler approach to the production, it's more loose than anything she's done before and free-flowing however not quite full set of bliss as with a lengthy 14 track set of the same blueprint things can get a bit too coequal towards its second half, but for the most part does deliver a solid body of work.

Following the twelve-second speech about risk-taking on the albums introduction, we are introduced to a pretty solid first couple tracks. First up we have "Love is Blind" a gradual haunting R&B production with Alicia's soaring vocal and extended harmonies. Next up is the two current singles "Doesn't Mean Anything," which I like quite a lot, is rich urban production reminiscing her 2007 hit "No One," without being a carbon copy and "Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart," a melodic number, pacing with crashing synths also with a rich and appealing urban production with slight electronic undertones.
I like the soaring falsetto that starts things off for "Wait Til You See My Smile," with the electronic synths and piano before the drums and violins come into play. The albums first piano and orchestration driven ballad "That's How Strong My Love Is" follows nicely, it has admirable melody. I like this a lot.
Where things aren't as strong begin in its middle section. "Un-thinkable (I'm Ready)" is too much of a slow burner, like an extended interlude that goes for four minutes, however I do like its dramatic piano chord driven climax, which takes too long to arrive. I'm not really into "Love is My Disease" either, which kind of suffers of the same problem--the chorus has a nice melody to it however not a strong-enough back bone to support the song for the whole four minutes.

The album does pick itself up with "Like the Sea," which has an abrasive bass line along lenient piano keys, I also like her vocal work on here. The strutting collabo with Beyonce on "Put it in a Love Song" is pretty good too, I like the rapid drum line and the tambourines. "This Bed" is very vocally front-loaded, however its swaggering melody makes up for her impulsive high-pitched cooing.
"Distance and Time," is a lovely piano ballad, however "How it Feels to Fly" is better. Closing the album is probably its best moment, her version of her and Jay-Z current #1 hit "Empire State of Mind" retitled to "Empire State of Mind (Part Two) Broken Down," whilst I do love the original, it was always Alicia's arresting belting of the chorus that I liked most, which makes this even more of a winner now that it has some verses that lead on swiftly to that brilliant chorus.
Despite her short-coming on As I Am, Alicia rarely disappoints me--she's remained very consistent throughout the decade and this is a nice way to end it, The Element of Freedom doesn't embrace the soul of her first two albums, but it didn't need to as it stand on it own with its blend of R&B and pop.
Best: Empire State of Mind (Part Two) Broken Down, Doesn't Mean Anything, Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart, That's How Strong My Love Is, Like the Sea, How it Feels to Fly


Ken said...

Awesome review. The best I've seen so far. I think I might be doing one too, in the future. Haha.

I just don't know why I really don't like 'Doesn't Mean Anything'. Maybe because I didn't like 'No One' in the first place. :D

ww_adh said...

Put It in a Love Song didn't get a "best" mention? I read a review in the paper this morning that said it was the album's best song. I may check this out, but I'm really not that excited about Alicia Keys. I loved Diary, but since then I've found her kind of bland.

J.Mensah said...

Ken: Thank You! :) I know quite a lot of people who didn't like No One too.

adh: I like it, but it's really not that great, sounds more of a beyonce song that alicia's. But after Diary was As I Am which was crap so where in the same boat :)

Mel said...

Just bought the disc yesterday after work so I could listen to it while working -- the first time I've bought an Alicia album since A Minor...

I heard a few tracks throughout the nets and got super psyched...and you like it...so...::rushes off to listen::.