Alicia Keys has loads of kindly, uplifting recommendation on “Alicia,” her seventh studio album. “When you free your thoughts/There’s magnificence in every little thing,” she sings in “Time Machine.” In “Authors of Eternally,” she counsels, “We’re all on this boat collectively/And we’re crusing in the direction of the long run/and it’s all proper.” She dedicates two songs, “Underdog” and “Good Job,” to hard-working on a regular basis folks, closing the album with lyrics that clearly apply to frontline employees throughout the pandemic: “The world wants you now/Know that you simply matter.”
The album additionally reveals misgivings, recriminations and regrets alongside Keys’s undiminished musicality. For every of her albums — as introduced in titles like “The Diary of Alicia Keys” (2003), “As I Am” (2007) and “Right here” (2016) — Keys, 39, has insisted she is revealing herself additional. Lately, she has typically appeared in public with out make-up, refusing to glamorize herself.
“Alicia” arrives within the wake of her memoir, “Extra Myself,” revealed in March. In her ebook, Keys describes herself as an artist whose dedication to make her personal approach has meant overcoming her intuition to please others. “I’m sturdy and fierce and courageous, little question,” she wrote. “But I’m additionally somebody who has discovered myself on the lavatory flooring, boohooing and feeling susceptible.”
Aspiration, shallowness and energy, particularly ladies’s energy, have been central messages for Keys in hits like “Superwoman” and “Girl on Fire.” In her songs and TV stints — currently as a coach on the “The Voice” and the poised host of the 2019 and 2020 Grammy Awards — Keys has outlined herself as a benevolent huge sister and an earth mom with a social conscience. In 2001, when she emerged as a 20-year-old prodigy who was equally grounded in classical piano and classic soul, she sang in regards to the ups and downs of romance, however she additionally took notice of “A Woman’s Worth.” She was solely on her second album when she co-founded the nonprofit Preserve a Baby Alive, which helps medical care in Africa and India, again in 2003.
Keys’s earlier album, “Right here,” was pointedly topical, addressing poverty, dependancy, sexuality and environmental destruction along with her rawest music, stretching towards hip-hop and jazz and placing grit in her voice. She stays topical on “Alicia” with “Excellent Approach to Die,” defying its chamber-music association with vocals that rise to tearful peaks as she sings in regards to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland and the protests that adopted.
Keys reclaims most of her normal composure on “Alicia,” but it surely’s typically tinged with ambivalence, even in love songs. The music, largely produced by Keys with an ever-changing assortment of songwriters and producers that features Johnny McDaid, Christopher A. (Tough) Stewart and Ludwig Goransson, often hollows itself out around her, opening deep bass chasms or surrounding sparse instrumentation with echoey voids.
“Time Machine” sees “beauty in everything,” but only after noting lingering, deep-seated fears and the unstoppable passage of time; its most striking moment is its pre-chorus, a banshee choir of voices urging, “Go out of your mind.” Keys shares “3 Hour Drive” with the British singer Sampha, in a call-and-response amid slow-drip percussion and downhearted descending chords, both of them mourning that they’re no longer together.
She has happier love songs, like “Show Me Love,” a teasing, sinuous duet with Miguel, and “Love Looks Better,” a brawny march (akin to “Girl on Fire”) that proclaims, “All I wanna do is you.” But as she does in her book, she also grapples with other people’s expectations in “Gramercy Park,” a country-ish waltz that apologizes for “attempting to be every little thing you need me to be,” and “So Done,” a duet with Khalid, over guitars and ticking percussion, about forsaking “combating myself, going to hell” to be “dwelling the best way that I would like.”
In her in depth musical catalog, Keys reveals far much less compromise than her recollection suggests. She has collaborated throughout the spectrum with rappers, crooners, rockers, producers and songwriters, however her character has by no means been submerged. She’s welcoming, compassionate, and open to concepts. However she’s no one’s underling.