Alicia Keys The Element of Freedom

Alicia Keys The Element of Freedom
In the spoken word intro at the beginning of Alicia Keys's fourth album, the multiple Grammy Award-winning singer says the risk of remaining the same can be more painful than having the courage to evolve. On listening to The Element of Freedom, it sounds like Keys was trying to convince herself of the veracity of this statement throughout the making of the record, with mixed results. The risks here are extremely calculated. While "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart" and "Unthinkable (I'm Ready)," featuring Toronto, ON's Drake, in a barely audible backing vocal gig, push Keys's sound in some interesting directions, she stays primarily in her comfort zone, focusing on earnest, love-fixated lyrics. That's not an entirely bad place to be, as no one is dismissing Keys's formidable, sometimes hair-raising, vocals, along with her skills as a pianist; it's just that this often sounds too familiar. Recent single "Doesn't Mean Anything" sounds like a suspicious retread of her hit "No One" and "Put It in a Love Song," featuring Beyoncé, possesses too many of the skittish vocal arrangements of the former Destiny's Child singer to sound like a collaboration greater than the sum of its parts. All of this makes the omission of "Dreaming," an excellent track that leaked on the internet a couple of weeks ago, even more puzzling. Ironically, it is "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down," an extended reworking of Keys's now ubiquitous anthemic hook from Jay-Z's hit single, which features her most unbridled performance, providing one of the few insights into what she might have done had she not played it so safe. (RCA/Jive/Sony)