Alicia Keys enjoyed a massive breakthrough across the world in 2001 with her debut album Songs in A Minor. That album spawned the monster hit Fallin’ and propelled the album to worldwide sales of more than 12 million. In the 15 years since that album, Keys has released another 4 albums with her last one, Girl On Fire, arriving in 2012. Currently serving as a coach on The Voice US, Keys has returned to her roots for new album Here.
With her new album Keys is getting back to basics and rediscovering herself. Earlier this year the singer-songwriter wrote an essay for Lena Dunham’s newsletter Lenny discussing her decision to stop wearing make up. As an artist, Keys felt that she’d be turned into a ‘chameleon’ by the music industry taking too much stock of what critics had to say about her. The decision to stop wearing make up is symbolic because in many ways the music she’s recorded on Here has taken the same stripped-back approach. The album explores social issues with Keys’ hometown of New York as its backdrop.
Prior to the album’s release Keys released Blended Family (What You Do For Love) featuring A$AP Rocky. The song is a deeply personal one that delves into her marriage to Swizz Beatz and explores the family that she’s fostered with his children. It also taps into a situation that many families find themselves in and reinforces the idea that family isn’t simply defined by blood any more. It’s an important message to get out there and Keys does it with class and love.
Other topics Keys explores across Here include same-sex marriage (Where Do We Begin Now), the pressures of being a woman in the modern world (Girl Can’t Be Herself) and sexual and racial discrimination (Holy War). In Common, which was used as a buzz track for the album, is relegated to bonus track status on the Deluxe Edition of Here. It’s a real shame as sonically it’s one of the most interesting songs Keys has recorded in a while and it’s an unconventional love song that gets under your skin.
The album is punctuated by interludes. Honestly I’m not a fan of interludes on records, especially when said interludes consist of snippets of conversation. I can understand what Keys is doing with them; she’s reinforcing the theme of the record by taking sound bites of conversation. For me though, they slow the pace of the album down and interrupt the great music.
One of the highlights on the record if the soulful groove of Work On It, where Keys discusses the difficulties of making a marriage work in the face of speculation and criticism. Another standout moment comes on the acoustic Kill Your Mama, where Keys questions the direction the world is going in and the future that’s waiting for us all. It’s a bold moment and one that’s worth pondering, particularly as America just elected the most unqualified President in the country’s history.
Alicia Keys is always at her best when she’s exploring real world issues. She’s a powerful force as both a singer and a songwriter and what she has to say needs to be heard. She’s a voice for millions of women across the world, she’s a fighter for social justice and she’s one hell of a storyteller. Here is an album that may take a few listens to get into and it may be a little hard going for some listeners, but hearing the truth is never easy. Keys hits the nail on the head, takes a poignant snapshot of modern life and creates some incredible music in the process.
Track Listing: 1. The Beginning (Interlude) 2. The Gospel 3. Pawn It All 4. Elaine Brown (Interlude) 5. Kill Your Mama 6. She Don’t Really Care/1 Luv 7. Elevate (Interlude) 8. Illusion of Bliss 9. Blended Family (What You Do For Love) featuring A$AP Rocky 10. Work On It 11. Cocoa Butter (Cross & Pic Interlude) 12. Girl Can’t Be Herself 13. You Glow (Interlude) 14. More Than We Know 15. Where Do We Begin Now 16. Holy War 17. Hallelujah 18. In Common Record Company: RCA Release Date: 4th November 2016