Faultless, languid, late-night soul, unmistakably the vision of one person.
Daryl Easlea 2009-09-02
This was an eagerly-awaited follow-up. Released two years after the 20-million plus sales of her debut, Songs in A Minor, The Diary of… underlined 22-year-old singer and pianist Alicia Keys’ increasing maturity and her significance to 21st century American music.
Keys states in her accompanying notes that the 15 pieces of music here are like diary entries. They could so easily have been full of gauche heart-on-sleeve angst, but fortunately everything is kept in good measure with the listener being drawn into her world of contemporary takes on classic soul.
Lead single You Don’t Know My Name is built around a sample from the 1970s New York group Main Ingredient’s Let Me Prove My Love to You. The meshing of modern street funk with its gorgeous, string-laden predecessors is hardly the freshest concept, but the subtlety – and Keys’ stunning voice – carries it through.
With contributions from artists such as Kanye West, Timbaland and John Legend, at times this album is like an academic exercise in spotting her reference points. Titles such as Harlem's Nocturne and her cover of Gladys Knight’s If I Was Your Woman (which merges into Isaac Hayes’ version of Walk On By) make her nods to history explicit; it's like some RnB relief teacher coming in and taking the class.
But it is so much more than just that – the album is all about mood and groove. Diary, which features Tony! Toni! Toné!, is faultlessly languid late-night soul with a superb “your secrets are safe with me” hook.
There can be a level of suspicion about Grammy-gathering albums often subsequently reduced to their statistics – US No.1; 618,000 US sales in its first week alone – as this often says little, and commemorates only the commercial accomplishment. However, it is easy to hear why The Diary of Alicia Keys was so popular – well-written, well-played and, although it boasts a cast list commensurate with all urban albums of the 21st century, it is unmistakably the vision of one person. An MTV Unplugged performance, a book of poetry and an acting career was just around the corner.