The Element of Freedom Alicia Keys (CD)
It's a sad truth, but many artists produce their best works when suffering. Alicia Keys wrote As I Am after her grandmother died, and it was one of the best albums of 2008: a heartfelt, emotion-packed, melodically glorious offering. If the rumours are to be believed, Keys has now found love - as a consequence, it seems, her latest album, The Element of Freedom, is nowhere near as good as her last.
The main problem is the lack of piano that set her far apart from other young singers on earlier releases. Instead, Keys has filled her tunes with drum machines, 1980s-style synthesisers and vocoders rather than her stunning piano and sweet, husky vocals.
This is far from a bad album. It combines genres as diverse as reggae (Love is my Disease), Stax-style R'n'B (This Bed), Coldplay vibes (Wait Til You See My Smile) and a pop duet (Put It In a Love Song) with Beyonce.
There are flashes of genius in Prince homage Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart; bonus track Pray For Forgiveness, practically the only one to show off Keys' unadulterated voice; and Empire State of Mind (Part II), a New York story that is just waiting to be included in a Broadway show. Keys fans who can temporarily forget As I Am will grow to accept this as a new side to the star.