As our feature album this week, we have what is being described as the second comeback album in the relatively short career of Alicia Keys. Here is her sixth studio album and her first since 2012's Girl On Fire. I must admit, I have never really given Alicia Keys much of a chance. I have kept up to date with her single releases and am obviously aware of her incredible voice and musical ability but this is the first time I have listened to an album of hers.
It is also the first time I feel I could sum up a review in one word – passion. I am yet to hear a musician who approaches what they do with quite the level of passion that this album contains, whether its for the quality of her singing, the soulful melodies or the immaculately crafted lyrics.
Keys tackles a broad spectrum of subjects in her songs. Lead single Blended Family (What You Do For Love) is a love song to her stepchildren and a tribute to the concept of family, in whatever guise it may present itself. As someone who has experience in this area (growing up, depending on who was present, I was classed as an eldest child, a middle child and an only child) this song really resonated with me. At the other end of the scale sits Illusion Of Bliss, looking at life from the perspective of an addict. What really makes this track work is the way Keys allows her normally-immaculate voice to waiver out of control to represent the desperation and helplessness of the subject.
She Don't Really Care_1 Luv works best as a companion piece to 2009's Empire State Of Mind Part. II. Whereas that was a grand song that revelled in the glitz and glamour of 'The Big Apple', this new track takes us down to street level. With its grittier, more urban feel, it is about surviving rather than thriving. It is hard to tell where Keys seems most comfortable.
It is when Keys touches upon the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement that we have seen so often in recent news coverage that her most intense passion rises to the surface. If you haven't seen it yet, head over to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_VaNhI4CLo. I don't think I have seen a more powerful and important 2 minutes and 43 seconds all year. Share it as much as you can.
These messages ring loudly through this album. In The Gospel, she speaks about her upbringing in Hells Kitchen, amongst 'the roaches and the rats'. She says that when the 'feds comin', everybody get shook', an obvious reference to the widely perceived systemic racism amongst US law enforcement agencies. Keys references Sam Cooke's prophetic song A Change Is Gonna Come, an anthem adopted by the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, which envisioned a future that has yet to come to fruition and of which some backwards thinkers still question the validity. She also includes a poem as an interlude read by Elaine Brown, an activist and singer with connections to the Black Panther party. Holy War carries a more general message about tolerance. It poses the question 'what if love was holy and hate obscene?'
Like it or not, we live in a fame-driven world. Celebrities set the trends, celebrities dictate the agenda, celebrities run for president. Though it would be remiss of me to say that people in that position owe society their voice when it comes to matters of social injustice, I admire the bravery shown when they choose to give it. Like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Keys is sitting for what she believes in. In front of her, not a football field, but a piano. One can only hope her words strike the same chord of resonance in the hearts of the American public. As she states in Pawn It All, change will only come when people are prepared to give up things of great value to make it happen. Let's all hope we aren't waiting too much longer.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron after all...
Lyric of the week
“If we are in love with hell, why the hell would heaven visit?”
Kill Your Mama
Love, harmony and respect
Across the whole world
As always, please feel free to write your own review using the comments section below. The more the merrier. Please do take note of our contribution guidelines. Looking forward to hearing what you thought.