Despite the name ALICIA (2020) suggesting this could be the album where the modern Alicia Keys finds her sound, ultimately a lackluster accompaniment of songs, sounds, and merging genres makes the entirety of the album a sum that is less than its singles. As a huge Alicia Keys fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed with her newest album, especially as the record that follows the hugely underappreciated HERE (2016).
The album opens in the typical Alicia Keys’ styled introduction, a song that serves a purpose as setting the tone for the incoming the album. Starting with ‘Truth Without Love’, the modern Alicia spices things up as she offers a short song (lyrics and all) rather than a soothing piano instrumental that’s dominated her previous albums. It’s refreshing and hopeful and what it lacks in style it makes up for it in substance with lyrics that sound more like poetry, merging the slickness of her R&B roots with sounds of pop and piano that is completely effortless. In fact, it’s probably Alicia’s most accomplished opening to date as it seamlessly flows into the song ‘Time Machine’ which was the album’s second single. This is where modern Alicia and R&B Alicia begin to merge in perfection as a strong bassline, drums and some groovy sound effects set up an instant classic. It’s a simple song that strips Alicia to the bareness of her music-making talents, but with great lyrics and an indefatigable drive to get you up and to dance, ‘Time Machine’ marks one of my favourite songs that have come out Keys’ 2o year career.
Sadly what follows are two songs that just seem to miss the mark for me. ‘Authors Of Forever’ becomes lost and muddled in the soppiness of its lyrics with a minimal drive to the music. Instead, its verses and chorus rephrase similar metaphors to accomplish the same loved-up notion of eternity. ‘Wasted Energy’, on the other hand, tries to be unique and sees Keys dip her toes into some Reggae influences, but as the only song that draws from these influences it stands out all the more when it fails to be anything more than average. It’s a repetitive song that never sounds distinguishable enough from any other reggae song out there and is only slightly boasted by Diamond Platnumz outro in his native language.
‘Underdog’ follows, which when released as the third single I sung more than enough praise about its heartwarming lyrics and catchiness in an earlier review and it works well for establishing a catchiness to keep me hooked on the album until the end. Frankly, I need the hook because what follows is a gruelling foray into dopey sounds and lazy talent. ‘3 Hour Drive’ is another song on the album that sits as… okay. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t necessarily like it. It leans into those R&B days of her earlier career while merging it with a much more modern style. However, I’ve never quite managed to get myself into how much RnB has changed over such a short period of time as, to me at least, I always found it sounding less musically distinct; a criticism that I think this song exemplifies. ‘Love Looks Better’ has a sense of grandeur that makes it feel like it was plucked from The Element of Freedom (2009) and Girl on Fire (2012) era of Keys, which is a period of Keys’ discography when she churned out some undeniable bangers. It has all the get-go that is driven from its strong accompaniment, as well as those heartwarming lyrics that always make me fall back in love with her as a musician.
A surprisingly fun song that feels the most different to anything that Keys has accomplished beforehand comes from collab with Tierra Whack on ‘Me x 7’. It’s a song driven by some synthy beats, a couple of clicks, a drum and as usual, the vocals. Again it leans to that side of simplicity that can either be great or awful, but Keys injects enough personality along with Tierra Whack’s incredible rap that the song just stands out and works impeccably well. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, something that made The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003) the classic it is today.
Yet for some reason, as great as Keys does at channelling her older R&B style, she often falls little flat when delivering us the ballads of the album. Now this excludes the simply superb ‘Perfect Way To Die’ which is probably one of my songs of 2020 so far. However, ‘Gramercy Park’ and ‘So Done’ fail to boast those musical talents that Keys characterised in her often beautiful piano playing. While ‘Gramercy Park’ feels refreshing for its acoustic guitar backing rather than the usual piano, it fails to do enough to really draw you into its reminisced sentiments. ‘So Done’ similarly thrives on a guitar backing but borders on that same simple and relatively repetitive strumming that it often feels more like a snooze fest than something that really caught my attention. It’s fitting they follow each other on the album’s ordering, but that doesn’t help that they total six minutes of music I’d rather skip.
I tried desperately to get into ALICIA. I’ve listened to it multiple times and have grown to like it more after each listens, but I will always consider it the weakest album from Alicia Keys to date. It’s tired, dreary and lacks personality meaning that a couple of songs made it onto one of my playlists and that’s about it.
Boasting a few great songs, ALICIA can't keep itself afloat as it fails to feel develop Keys discography in a meaning way.