released Dec 15th
from the album - Doesn't Mean Anything
By mixing R&B songcraft with a sultry dose of neo-soul, Alicia Keys became an international star in 2001 with the release of her debut album. Songs in A Minor sold more than 50,000 copies during its first day of availability and eventually moved over ten million units worldwide, thus setting the stage for the 20 year-old's long career. Although she shared the charts with such R&B contemporaries as Destiny's Child, Keys' talents distinguished her as a different sort of diva, one who played a variety of instruments and penned the majority of her songs without outside help. The Diary of Alicia Keys solidified her popularity two years later, and Alicia Keys spent the rest of the decade refining her now-signature sound.
Alicia Augello Cook was born in Harlem in early 1981. Raised by her Italian-American mother, she enrolled in classical piano lessons at the age of seven and began writing songs four years later. An education at the Professional Performance Arts School helped hone her vocal skills, and Alicia graduated at the age of 16 as the class valedictorian. Two Columbias loomed on the immediate horizon: Columbia University and Columbia Records, both of whom had extended offers to the talented student/musician. Although she attempted to make both options work, Alicia found it difficult to juggle the two commitments and chose to focus exclusively on her music career. Assuming the stage name of Alicia Keys, she began to work with Columbia and contributed a song to the Men in Black soundtrack, but disputes with the label resulted in her contract's termination.
Keys bounced back by aligning herself with Clive Davis, the president of Arista Records, but work on her debut album stalled when Davis was ousted from the company in 2000. Davis soon formed his own label, J Records, and welcomed Keys back into the fold with an aggressive publicity campaign (including an influential appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show). Songs in A Minor was then released in June 2001 and debuted at the top of the charts, eventually netting five Grammys and rising to platinum status in ten different countries. Released in 2003, The Diary of Alicia Keys enjoyed similar Grammy-certified success, and Keys released a book of poetry the following year.
A live CD/DVD package, Unplugged, arrived in 2005 and followed Keys' two previous releases to the top of the charts, even if it failed to win any of the four Grammys for which it was nominated. Alicia Keys then entered the acting world, starring in both Smokin' Aces and The Nanny Diaries in 2007, before issuing the pop-influenced As I Am later that year. It became her fourth consecutive number one album, and she was nominated for another handful of Grammys as a result ("Superwoman" won the award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in early 2009). As 2009 drew to a close, Keys returned to the top of the Billboard charts with "Empire State of Mind," a Jay-Z single that featured her vocals, and released her fourth studio album with The Element of Freedom.
album review from chicago tribune
On her fourth studio album, “The Element of Freedom” (RCA), Alicia Keys revisits “Empire State of Mind,” the hit single on which she collaborated with Jay-Z earlier this year.
On Keys’ remake, the singer retains the soaring vocal hook that helped make the song one of the year’s most indelible anthems, a celebration of New York City and its multitude of contradictions and possibilities. But without Jay-Z, the track loses its swagger. Whereas Jay-Z owns the song (and quite possibly New York), Keys sounds like she’s just passing through.
The rest of the singer-pianist’s album is packed with carefully calibrated statements that rarely break free from formula – despite what the album title promises. “The Element of Freedom” is less about breaking free than holding it together, a series of songs about perseverance in the face of personal travail. Keys takes few chances and rarely lets her guard down. But what she does, she does better than just about anyone: combining classic songcraft with hip-hop crunch. And – unlike her previous three studio albums -- “Freedom” rarely sounds forced or gimmicky. It’s her most consistent album and also her most low-key.
Though she’s sold 30 million albums worldwide and won 12 Grammy Awards, Keys has been erratic, sometimes allowing pop currency to trump soul-baring artistry.
She aims to go deeper on “Freedom,” adopting a more measured, mid-tempo approach and a more introspective tone. Keys has said the album is about overcoming depression, presumably after a bad break-up. But the lyrics are so trite it’s difficult to buy into the album as a personal statement: “Like a ship through a storm we can risk it all”; “If I can touch the sky, I’d risk the fall, to know what it feels like to fly”; “Love is like the sea, leaves you on your knees… then it takes you under.”
Music isn’t the greeting-card business, but sometimes Keys acts like she doesn’t know the difference. Yet the songs are so well-crafted that the album hangs together despite its shortcomings. Keys doesn’t really inhabit songs the way the old-school soul and gospel singers did, but she has studied their phrasing and tone while producers Kerry “Krucial” Brothers and Swizz Beatz underpin the melodies with inventive drum loops.
Rumbling percussion anchors the melancholy of “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” and the yearning of “Un-Thinkable” (I’m Ready).” At times she evokes her own hits (echoing her 2007 song “No One” on “Distance and Time”) or those of her peers (enlisting Beyonce for a bit of “Single Ladies” sassiness on the tribal groove of “Put it in a Love Song”).
Best of all is “Love is My Disease,” on which Keys’ pleading voice frays around the edges. After managing her emotions so carefully on the rest of the album, she sounds almost vulnerable. Here’s hoping she lets it happen more often.
1 The Element of Freedom (Intro) :13
2 Love Is Blind 3:55
3 Doesn't Mean Anything (Main) 4:39
4 Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart 3:00
5 Wait Til They See My Smile 4:00
6 That's How Strong My Love Is 4:05
7 Unthinkable (I'm Ready) 4:09
8 Love Is My Disease 4:02
9 Like the Sea 4:13
10 Put It in a Love Song 3:15
11 This Bed 3:45
12 Distance and Time 4:27
13 How It Feels to Fly 4:42
14 Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down 3:43