In a year when Beyoncé released a track about making cellphone sex tapes and Rihanna reinvented herself as a broody, N-bomb-dropping militant, you have to hand it to Alicia Keys for sticking to her relatively innocuous R&B guns. [rssbreak] The Element Of Freedom is packed to the gills with songs about love: finding it, making it, losing it, analyzing it. The result is a surprisingly bittersweet romp through Keys's psyche.
Don’t mistake the presence of Jay-Z and Beyoncé on Alicia Keys' fourth album as evidence that the singer/songwriter is burrowing into modern R&B -- take it instead as evidence of the rarefied company Keys keeps, her status as a superstar so solidified that the only cameos possible are R&B/hip-hop elite. Superstars are often given leeway to do anything they want, and so it is on The Element of Freedom, where Keys dials back the outward expansion of As I Am and turns inward, creating a clean, small-scale collection of ballads and Prince-inspired pop. Always apparent on Alicia’s albums, that Prince influence is underscored by how she’s swapped the retro-soul instrumentation of her earliest music for electronics, but she’s retained the warmth, the throwback sensibility and, especially, a sense of reserve, never getting too heated or gauche.
Listening to Alicia Keys’ The Element of Freedom, you might think someone is playing a huge joke on you. Gone is any inventive use of piano. Gone is the fire and the youthful exuberance that made song like “Fallin”, “Heartburn”, and “Karma”—which remains the greatest song Alicia Keys has yet recorded—some of the best songs of the decade.
The reigning ? diva-glitz aesthetic — campy, prurient, pantsless — has served the Gagas, Fergies, and Katy Perrys of the world very well in 2009. Alicia Keys, however, has never really been that outré girl, bombastic Jay-Z duets and the occasional Lycra jumpsuit aside. Instead, over four albums she’s established herself as an increasingly rare thing in pop music: the class act.
ALICIA KEYS“The Element of Freedom”(J) Through most of “The Element of Freedom” Alicia Keys sings processionals. They’re slow, clean songs with semi-classical acoustic piano, soft-pop chord changes and simple, prominent hip-hop beats. They’ve nearly got a social purpose: They underline ….