On her seventh LP, Keys shows an adventurousness that results in one of her best releases yet.
At this point in her career, Alicia Keys needs no introduction. The singer-songwriter has been a prominent figure in music for almost 20 years, with chart-topping hit singles and classic albums to her name. On her seventh LP, Keys brings forth her most collaborative and genre-blending release to date.
With ALICIA, Keys explores various genres of music throughout the album’s runtime. From the old school funk influence on “Time Machine” to the dub-inspired “Wasted Energy” we see Keys shifting from one sound to the next in a near-seamless fashion. The most impressive thing about this record is that the sound remains cohesive no matter how varied the tracks are.
A major factor in the album being able to strike this balance between its eclectic nature and sense of cohesion is its feature list. Up until this point, Keys’ projects have had minimal to no features, but with ALICIA, we see a pretty hefty guest list. Of the 15 tracks, seven have credited guest vocalists, and there are several uncredited acts hidden within the tracklist as well.
While this is new territory for Keys, these artists fit in exactly how they’re supposed to and help to take these tracks to the next level. The sultry “Show Me Love” sees Keys and Grammy-winning R&B singer Miguel smoothly weave their vocals together harmonizing beautifully over mellow guitar chords, delivering a fantastic downtempo R&B duet.
The song “3 Hour Drive” sees Keys and UK singer-songwriter Sampha somberly yet soulfully crooning about lost love. As much as it feels like Keys exploring Sampha’s sound, it also feels like he’s adapting to hers as well. The pair’s individual styles complement each other very well, and they share an unexpected amount of chemistry on the track.
The most surprising foray into a new genre for Keys comes on the country-tinged “Gramercy Park.” The song sees her exploring all the changes she is making in order to appeal to her partner’s desires, realizing the person her partner is falling for isn’t even her. It’s a very intimate and reflective song, and Keys fits very comfortably over the country-inspired instrumental.
While the album shines as it switches smoothly between different genres and moods, it closes with a familiar sound for Keys fans. The final two tracks, “Perfect Way to Die” and “Good Job” both feature nothing more than her and her piano, the signature sound she’s known for.
“Perfect Way to Die” is an extremely emotional and powerful protest ballad, touching on police brutality and the pain of loss. “Good Job” is a beautiful ode to the hard work of everyday people, but in a world affected by COVID-19, it feels more like an anthem dedicated to the perseverance of the human spirit.
ALICIA is a wonderful album that sees Keys adapting her style to an assortment of genres without sacrificing her artistic integrity. It’s a deeply personal and reflective piece of work that excels in the diversity of its soundscape, and the quality of the songwriting. Keys’ boldness in exploring different genres may have been a risk, but it paid off majorly, resulting in one of her best and most interesting albums yet.
Trial Track: 3 Hour Drive feat. Sampha