All the right Keys

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

She's won dozens of awards, sold tens of millions of copies of her four albums, published a book of poems, starred in two films and participated in a number of humanitarian efforts.

Alicia Keys is, in the words of a song on her latest album, a superwoman. And she's only 27.

Her third studio album, As I Am, is a continuation of the soulful RnB and Motown-inspired neo-soul of her previous releases.

The title track is a piano solo which segues into a funked-up, electronic intro. By combining her classical training with modern technology, she reminds listeners of her love of mixing genres.

Although the album is a hi-tech production, Keys makes it clear - both in interviews and in the tunes - that it is the music that's important. She believes technology 'ruins everything. It makes us lazy. It even affects communication ... We don't even talk to each other anymore.

'But if you respect it, and still respect the art, it can help the process.'

Judging by this CD, Keys does respect technology. While there is no Fallin' or You Don't Know My Name in this collection - instantly memorable songs that you find stuck in your head when you wake up - there is more variety in terms of style and point of view on this album.

There are the Latin beats of I Need You. Like You'll Never See Me Again is a heartfelt, Diana Ross-esque ballad about treating each moment and experience as sacred.

The Thing About Love has Beatles-ish piano and drums. The poppy No One is ostensibly about refusing to be kept away from a love, but which actually describes 'the constant struggle with anything good you have in your life ... You have to come to the realisation that no one can get in the way of a good thing'.

While lyrically and musically she has matured - she's less angry, less defensive - her range of topics has decreased. She sings almost exclusively about love: lost love, new love, betrayed love, self-love, love for life.

This is not surprising, since the singer-songwriter describes this emotion as her 'survival': 'The thing that makes me survive is connecting to things I can trust, and I know are real and can depend on. The thing that gives me a sense of belonging, I guess it's love. I'd feel lost without it.'

Keys knows about survival. Raised by her single mother in the tough Hell's Kitchen district of New York City, she saw how hard life can be.

Her awareness of suffering is perhaps what drew her to become a spokeswoman for numerous charities, particularly Aids awareness groups.

In Superwoman, she sings 'I hang my head from sorrow/ State of humanity'.

And yet she is aware of the power we all have to make a difference: 'Even when I'm a mess/ I still put on a vest/ With an S on my chest ... I can fly.'

Keys isn't afraid to bend the rules, speak her mind or take risks. This album is proof of that.

All she asks is that you take her as she is.

As I Am is on sale now