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October 28, 2020

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Icon music review: ALICIA - Alicia Keys

Not Keys’ finest work by any stretch of the imagination. Still, there are enough good tunes and her smooth vocals to recommend it.

Reviewed By Craig Hoffman
American singer-songwriter and actress Alicia Keys is out with her seventh studio album Alicia (stylized all caps) in 2020. This comes after a number of delays due to COVID-19. Keys has received numerous awards in her fantastic career, including 15 (competitive) Grammy Awards. 

The artist was the host for the Awards show in 2019 becoming the first woman in 15 years to do so. She repeated the feat in 2020 in addition to singing a soulful tribute to the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

Keys is generally considered by many to be the “Queen of R&B.” In 2015, The Recording Academy honored Keys in Washington D.C., with the Recording Artists' Coalition Award for “her artistry, philanthropy and her passion for creators' rights. She has been granted awards from numerous others including The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA). 

NMPA president David Israelite wrote about Keys: “She’s a songwriter icon, but she is also an icon of confidence and encouragement to all. Through her writing, performing, philanthropy, mentoring and advocacy for fair compensation for her fellow songwriters, she is a true force for good in our industry and beyond.”

Keys wrote and produced most of her latest album. Alicia also features composition and technical help from Swizz Beatz, Johnny McDaid, and The-Dream, and several other well-regarded forces in the music world.

Alicia is a return to Keys’ more R&B roots. Gone are the hooks of some of her more mainstream efforts in pop music. Unfortunately, the singing is better than the source material at times. While Keys makes a sincere effort, the overall vibe of the album seeks to please every listener, unsuccessfully at times. A shame when so many of the individual tracks are good.

“Underdog” was released to pop radio as the album’s third official single. The lyrics are some of the best on Alicia. It is an anthem for freedom for all people without exception. The freedom to think, to live in peace, let's stop racism and discrimination in the world. But who is an “Underdog” to the singer? 

Alicia Keys said in Rolling Stone: “Some people may think of the word underdog as a negative word, but I see it as a powerful word representing people who may be underestimated and yet still rise to the challenge and exceed expectations[...]” 

“Time Machine” was written by Keys, Sebastian Kole and Rob Knox. It has a retro-funk sound, a stark departure from other tracks on the albums. The song features a cameo from American rapper Tierra Whack. It is one of the more original and impressive compositions on the album.

“So Done” features American singer Khalid. It’s another standout duet on the album. Khalid is an American singer and songwriter. His debut album “American Teen” went double platinum. He has received six Grammy Award nominations, three American Music Awards and a MTV Video Music Award. 

There are several love songs on the album as well. “3 Hour Drive” is a duet between Keys and Sampha, a singer and songwriter from South London. Sampha is known for his collaborations with Drake, Kanye West, and Solange. Alicia’s vocals with Sampha’s are music magic. 

Like many of the previously released singles, Alicia has met with positive reviews. Several reviewers highlighted Keys’ singing on the album. In The Sunday Times, Dan Cairns said the compositions are on-par with the “classic” songwriting of her earliest albums and that they accentuate her vocals, which he described as “soaring, swooping, scatting, richly nuanced, deploying full-throated passion and pin-drop restraint.”

Final Take: Alicia is not Keys’ finest work by any stretch of the imagination. Still, there are enough good tunes and her smooth vocals to recommend it. But likely downloading the released singles is sufficient for most fans of R&B. 4.25/5.

Craig Hoffman is a music graduate of Ohio Northern University and The University of Akron School of Music. He also serves as the Icon’s Japan correspondent.