The Element of Freedom (J/Sony)
For many artists these days, music is nothing more than a bank. And for many more, it is a stage, a glittering realm that holds out the promise of stardom. But then there are the singers for whom song is one thing and one thing only: a church. Alicia Keys is that kind of artist, and for those of us who still look to records for uplift, for comfort, for a soundtrack to our joy and sorrow and fumbling growth, for a way to make sense of the human experience—Alicia is our girl.
And with her fourth studio album, the New York songbird reminds us, one more time, why. It’s all there: the haunting pianos, the gritty hip-hop beats, the raw vocals about life and love and loss, the steely strength that underlies it all.
But on this project, there is also something new, and that is vulnerability. From the almost violently compelling, expansive “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart” to the moody, Drake-assisted “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)” to the soaring ode to the Big Apple, “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down,” a remake of her hit duet with Jay-Z, the singer tears down her walls and fully lets listeners in, managing somehow to create an experience that is at once both personal and universal.
“We all need a place were we can close the door and be private—in your own room, in your own house, with your own thoughts,” the singer recently told Giant magazine of what music means to her. The Element of Freedom offers just that sort of resting place. In other words, with this project, Alicia reminds us that soul music can still speak to our souls.
Download This: “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart”