Alicia Keys might have gotten married and had a son since her last release in 2009, but her declaration that this album is all about a Brand New Me, as she explains on track two, is a slight exaggeration.
For though her fifth studio album sees her stretching her sonic boundaries, and working with talented artists like Emeli Sande, Frank Ocean, Bruno Mars, and Jamie xx, Keys hasn’t strayed far from the sound that has won her 14 Grammy Awards.
When It’s All Over, with production from Jamie xx is a dark, modern twist on Keys’ usual soul offerings, all electro jazz under a breathy vocal delivery, and featuring a cameo from her 2-year-old son Egypt. New Day has her veering more into Rihanna/Beyonce territory with its military drum rolls and scatting riffs, and it’d be a strong single if it weren’t for the lazy lyrics (“party people say, it’s a new day”). The title track is also weak, borrowing its drum riff from Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl, and relying on Nicki Minaj for a dose of attitude.
Some the best tracks are on the latter half of the album – seductive R&B duet Fire We Make sounds lovingly old-school, the pop gospel of Tears Always Win actually works, while Not Even The King releases her emotions with just the piano as accompaniment, and final track 101 is a scorching two-part ballad that finally sounds like Key has found that internal fire.
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