Fact: Alicia Keys debut album, Songs in A Minor, was released in June 2001. Think about that folks, Alicia Keys has only been around for seven years. While this critic sat around, wasting his life, Ms. Keys has released four albums, won eleven Grammy’s, had seven number-one singles, starred in two films, written two books, and become an African Ambassador to bring AIDS awareness to the forefront of international politics. Does anyone else feel like an under-achiever?
With so many accomplishments, Keys has arrived at a point in her career where anything she releases is going to sell, regardless of its actual quality. Some artists who reach this point keep focus and deliver definitive albums. More, however, slip and release musical debaucheries, that don’t vibe with their level of talent. Just think Jay’s Kingdom Come if you need an example. Sadly, Alicia Keys newest effort, As I Am, is of the latter sort, and comes across as unfocused and average.
Many tracks seem downright formulaic, following the path of a slow piano intro, to a frustrating chorus, to a two-minute breakdown in which she unsuccessfully tries to go outside of her vocal range, and instead, comes across as if she’s trying too hard and just yelling. “The Thing About Love” and “Where Do We Go From Here” take that same pattern. Also, while most of her songs create an image of empowerment and strength, some just seem self-serving and unoriginal; in the chorus to “Superwoman”, she sings “Cause I’m a Superwoman”, the chorus follows up immediately with “Yes you are…””” The special guests on the album don’t really much add too much to the effort either. The John Mayer produced, “Lessons Learned” and the aforementioned “Superwoman” by Linda Perry are among the weaker tracks on the album.
However, there are some great moments on the album. “Wreckless Love”, “Go Ahead”, and “Teenage Love Affair” see Keys delve back into a relaxed soul-groove where she strives. “Prelude to A Kiss” isn’t bad either; instead of reverting back to the yelling typical of most of the album, she instead seems to realize the value of an understated sound.
All in all, “As I Am” is an average album by a great artist. Check it out if you’re a fan, but if not, you might want to wait to see how she does come next time. – Michael Rodriguez
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