Review: Alicia Keys' 'The Element of Freedom'
Alicia Keys arrived on the music scene with a certain amount of weight and expectation. She’d been dropped by Columbia and Arista and picked up Clive Davis’s then-nascent J Records. For those who were there for her unveiling at Davis’s pre-Grammy party in the early 2000s, he introduced her with so much expectation and gravitas (as only Davis can) that it seemed like the fate of the music world rested on her slender shoulders. It’s as if she has to be Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Stevie Wonder all rolled into one.
Much of “Freedom” is awash in a heavy production that sounds straight from the ‘80s (this much be coming back, we’ve noticed it a lot of albums lately). There are heavy kick drums, lots of echo and, a certain mid-tempo rock feel: (think Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and you get the drift). Keys uses that on a number of tunes, including “Love is Blind” and the irresistible “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart.” It also works to strong effect on “Wait Till You See My Smile,” about having the last word to your naysayers, even though the production threatens to overshadow her vocals.
“Freedom” could use a few more up-tempo tracks, but Keys shows with this set that for her— and for most of us— love makes the world go round or brings it to a complete halt.