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Alicia Keys: The Element of Freedom
The lead single off the album, ‘Doesn’t Mean Anything’, is a cookie-cutter pop/R&B track that could easily have come off of a Jordan Sparks album, or better yet, a late 90’s Monica CD . Keys brings to this album her now raspy voice, which she introduced in her album The Diary of Alicia Keys , This adds an element of sincerity in some of the more agonizingly emotional moments on certain tracks, to the point that she sometimes walks a fine line between hitting big notes and just making loud, emotional confessions. And while it still might take listeners about 15 guesses to figure out that the voice belongs to her, the raw emotion and desperate plea in the vibrato of her voice are still unmistakably Alicia Keys.
The one single that pulls on this reviewer’s heartstrings in the traditional Keys heart-wrenching technique is ‘Try Sleeping with A Broken Heart‘. It brings together a combination of a-woman-done-wrong and innocence quite possibly never heard before on any track. It sounds as if she’s this close to breaking down, but refuses to compromise her pride. It makes the listener want to hug her and tell her it will all be all right.
However, the album is heavy on the beats; you just can’t play it on your laptop while you work. You should blast this percussion-infused album on a surround sound system, at least for the more upbeat tracks such as the surprisingly fun collaboration with Beyoncé on ‘Put It in A Love Song’. Beyoncé might have a history of whoring her vocals out for exposure with the current ‘it‘ artists such as Sean Paul and Lady Gaga, but this track is irresistible, marrying together Beyoncé’s pop/dance fetish with Keys’ anguished soul vibes.
Play this album in the background while you’re cooking or doing housework. And when something catches your attention, pump up the volume. Because as it turns out, The Element of Freedom can at times be asphyxiating rather than freeing. Keys remains - to some degree - one of the most original R&B/Soul artists out there, in an age of formulaic divas like Rihanna and Ciara.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?
With no prior announcements of its making, save for a short film named “Jungle” released a few hours before it became publicly available, If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late was first released on iTunes Store, Spotify and Soundcloud, and quickly received acclaim – impressive sales figures followe.
So what’s the deal with this mixtape/album hybrid that boasts a massive 17-track track list? As a whole, it shows lyrical maturity on Drake’s side, as well as quite remarkable production. As is his usual, the Canadian singer’s fourth album blends the worlds of velvety smooth r&b and modern hip-hop.
The latter emerges in spirit on the album’s opener. ‘Legend’, in which Drizzy announces, “If I Die, I’m a Legend.” He continues on “No Tellin’”, warning “Please do not speak to me like I'm that Drake from four years ago/ I’m at a higher level.”
It’s a theme that runs through much of the album, with his often ridiculed but much loved romantic (hyper-) sensitivity offer taking a backseat somewhat. His position as a target of more hate that he probably should get drives him to unapologetically state, “I’ve got enemies//Got a lot of enemies,” over the eerie, monotonic piano chords in ‘Energy’.
Despite drifting into self-actualisation on ‘Know Yourself’, the Young Money prodigy still doesn’t go to the emotional depths fans have become accustomed to, rapping “I've always been me, I guess I know myself” and “I want that Ferrari, then I swerve” in one same breath.
With several guest collaborators appearing on the album, one of the highlights is ‘Star67’ featuring Lil Wayne; a song that sees Drake go full-on confessional, rapping about his struggle to financially support his mother, making it in the fickle industry and going from rags to riches.
He explores these subjects further on “You and the 6” – a track seemingly inspired by and dedicated to his mother: “She worry 'bout me from home//You know she raised me alone.” It’s on this song that he most harks back to what can only be described as his unique selling point – rather than gimmick – of breaking the urban music mould with a relative and digestible sense of sincerity.
Though many will argue that If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late presents little other than the familiar introspectiveness of Drake, it does go some way to prove that his musings aren’t exclusively affective in the context of chart-friendly, commercial radio. With excellent production values and a noticeably increasing lyrical maturity, this is possibly his best work to date; an album-come-mixtape that stands tall in a sea of hip-hop bravado.