Alicia Keys has dropped the urban flavours in the previous outing in favour of a more...
James Young 2007-11-19
With her third studio album, As I Am, Alicia Keys has dropped the urban flavours in the previous outing in favour of a more mature soul sound. Her celebrated voice is pushed to the fore, often relegating the prodigious piano playing to the background, save on "Prelude To A Kiss" where they go hand in hand.
Sassy opener "Go Ahead" feels like a statement of intent but the attitude is sadly lacking elsewhere on the album which often feels more Whitney than Stevie. No more so than on the monster single "No-One". Numbers like this, "Tell You Somethin’", "Superwoman" and "Lesson Learned" are slick, safe, and uninspiring. Similarly, "You’ll See Me Again" could be from a book of Prince’s bad ballads. Lyrically soft rocker "Sure Looks Good To Me" presents the case against and is simply a stream of howling clichés.
When Keys and the team throw caution to the wind the album begins to sound fresh. "I Need You"’s off beat rhythms make you prick up your ears and listen. The modern soul sound that they seem to be searching for suddenly comes right on the seriously classy "Where Do We Go From Here". The Hammond and horns underpin a huge vocal performance that has more emotion squeezed into it than all the ballads together. "Wreckless Love" is Keys at her most funky and sexy; her voice soaring above a crescendo of jazzy drums and horns. "The Thing About Love" a beautiful centre piece. As if reading your mind she states “it’s about time for me to shine” and obligingly does in a big and bold way.
It is a frustrating, mixed bag of an album. You get a sense of her huge talent but it feels like in trying to make a modern classic that is in keeping with Keys’ huge stature, they have played it too safe. She is talked about as a female Stevie Wonder, but he is held in such high regard because he was a pioneer. His music sounds timeless now because it was groundbreaking when it was made. This just feels like a step back.