Published Nov 07, 2016For all of her talent and artistic ability, Alicia Keys has yet to put together a solid full-length record from start to finish. Despite taking a four-year break, her sixth album, Here, is no exception.
These days, Keys is a fixture in the public eye, whether it's being featured on TV singing contest show "The Voice" or making a guest spot on soapy TV drama "Empire." And she has nothing really to prove — her status as a contemporary R&B/pop artist is cemented, and her songwriting and musical abilities continue to evolve. But assuming the intent of this 16-track project was to be a take on The Miseducation of Lauren Hill — complete with "conscious" interludes — Here isn't quite there. Keys has always had great musical ideas and perspective, but arguably hasn't been able to make the superstar to megastar transition.
With the help from husband Swizz Beatz, longtime writing collaborator Harold Lilly and songwriter/producer Mark Batson — collectively known as the ILLuminaries — Keys rides a raw, humanistic angle that comes off genuine but lacks the impact she likely hoped for. Keys has always been socially aware but she amps it up here, whether it's via her "no makeup" beauty mantra or her layered take on the nature of love (see: "Blended Family (What You Do For Love").
Piano-driven "Pawn It All" offers up lyrics such as "I would give you everything / Just so I could start my life over again," and the gospel sound of "Illusion of Bliss" is ambitiously self-aware: "I'm sick of being judged / Sick of being sick." The guitar groove of "Kill Your Mama" features a folksy urban vibe, while the pop feel of "Work on It" is admittedly catchy. Ballad "Where Do We Begin Now" explores sexual fluidity and feels edgy, but only if you use air quotes in that description, while the faux-Caribbean feel of "Girl Can't Be Herself" ("Wo yo yo yo!") has a pleasant groove but ultimately feels corny.
Here is empowering at times — it's strong in craft and intent, and will likely perform well — but the hope that Keys will deliver that iconic, instant classic album continues on. (Sony)