from ACRN: the Alicia Keys Review

Alicia Keys:The Element of Freedom
[J Records; 2009] 
Rating: 7/10 
By Star Watson, Staff Writer
December 18, 2009

Twelve-time Grammy winning R&B artist Alicia Keys has been struggling to put out something greater than her first two albums. Her latest, The Element of Freedom, can be seen as an attempt to broaden, or free (for lack of better words), her abilities as an artist. Unfortunately, the album could just come off as all over the place and a mere compilation of Keys' talents.
She’s going into a new sound - like a live band sound but with random songs where she goes with some sort of electric vocalization. She takes steps towards fusing the sounds of Isaac Hayes and Beyonce, both whom she has collaborated with once in her career (Songs in A Minorand The Element of Freedom). In The Element of Freedom, it's almost confusing to hear “Try Sleeping with A Broken Hear," which sounds like it's from Smokey Robinson circa 1965, and then hear “Doesn’t Mean Anything," which sounds like it could be performed by any current R&B artist.
One thing Keys maintains as her staple in the genre is her status as a social and political force with her worldly tune “How It Feels to Fly." Her lyrics speak of the ever-so-basic saying “life’s a journey," but fortunately she does provide an uplifting feeling with the choir singing in the background of this song. Her version of “Empire State of Mind” was far better than Jay-Z’s version, focusing more on the highlights of New York City and less of NYC’s pop culture icons composed in Jay-Z’s half-assed rhymes.
The love songs on The Element of Freedom are touching, but basic enough for her teenage audience. “Distance and Time” is a song about being in a long distance relationship, while “Love is Blind” is a song about how having feelings toward a person may overshadow his or her flaws. These topics are not typically discussed much in the R&B genre nowadays, at least in the manner Alicia Keys gives to her audience.
Keys, however, does have songs on The Element of Freedom that will keep fans listening. “Love Is My Disease” and “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” are two songs that are bound to inspire tears for those who can relate. “That’s How Strong My Love Is” gets honorable mention because it’s the one song on which Keys doesn’t overshoot her vocals.
Although Keys over-complicated her vocals on The Element of Freedom, her songwriting skills ease the pain. The album may not grow on listeners until the holidays wear off, when a lot of couples seem to call it quits and Keys' songs about heartbreak hit closer to home.

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