Written by Alessa Frenkel
After 6 years of silence, Alicia Keys’ just released her new album Here and it couldn’t come at a better time. In light of a controversial American president elect, increasing racial issues and an ever expanding divide, the artist does not shy away from being bold and tackling topics of racism, addiction, intolerance and self-love.
Whilst Alicia’s signature piano can still be heard on many tracks such as The Gospel or Pawn It All, the artist takes on a more mature sound that speaks of growth as a person as well as an artist. Evidently, she shows that she does not shy away from taking musical risks incorporating grittier R&B sounds together with old school Hip-Hop beats even featuring A$AP Rocky on her emotional power track Blended Family (What You Do For Love).
Keys has a habit of setting the tone for the record on her first track. Staying true to her ways, she compares herself to Nina Simone on The Beginning (Interlude) (“I feel like history on the turntables, old school to new school, like nothing ever been realer […] I’m Nina Simone in the park and Harlem in the dark.”). The late singer/songwriter did not only win recognition for her talent but also for her achievements as a civil rights activist in the wake of Martin Luther Jr.’s movement.
Taking on Nina Simone’s role, Alicia gets raw and real on racial discrimination on more than one track. Elaine Brown named after the civil rights activist addresses pain and reality of being a black woman with Kill Your Mama backing the notion where the Grammy winner exhibits lyrical poetry other artists don’t have the courage to publish; and she does not stop talking about the tougher parts of life. Blended Family (What You Do For Love) tackles her relationship with her husband’s children, Work On It produced by Pharrell Williams deals with a struggling relationship and in Illusion of Bliss she takes on the perspective of an alcohol addict. Needless to say, the record is not one for the fainthearted.
“There’s definitely an imbalance,” she points out, “and I think that we’re all feeling that imbalance, to be honest. I love how much we all can identify with music,” Keys states, “whether we’re artists or just working at the post office, music is our life.”
And this imbalance can be felt throughout all of her 18 powerful tracks. Whilst Alicia intertwines slower melodies with upbeat songs, her controversial lyrics transcend into a feeling of unease no doubt making the listener think about what point the artist is trying to convey.
Nevertheless, whilst there is a consistent unanimous sound to the record, the Grammy winner released In Common earlier this year which completely falls out of line with the heavy drum-laden, R&B beats the other songs follow. Underlined with synths and echoes, In Common is an atypical Alicia Keys song that could have easily been sung by someone with less of a vocal range than hers. The record could have easily ended on Hallelujah or a different powerful song that would have brought the album to more of a full-circle than In Common did.
No doubt, Here is probably the most honest album Alicia Keys has released so far and it is evident throughout the entire record beginning with a makeup-less cover picture and ending with a broken echo of Hallelujah. Musically speaking, the artist clearly takes some risks mingling 70s soul, old school hip-hop and trademark piano R&B sounds into a repertoire that some people just might take offence to. While some people might appreciate her honesty and versatility, it left me with a feeling of restlessness as if the album was incomplete and a certain puzzle piece was missing.
Take a listen for yourself below.