“And it feels so good!” Alicia Keys initially exclaims over jazzy coats of instruments, courtesy of Jamie xx (who provides perhaps the most un-Alicia Keys-like platform for her signature stellar vocals), on “When It’s All Over”. The proclamation sounds like something you might hear the 31-year-old R&B queen say in an interview these days, like when she told NPR that her marriage to producer Swizz Beatz and the birth of their son Egypt (who adorably lends his toddler voice to the end of the song) helped her “arrive in her own space.” The singer is, in a word, happy.
“It feels so good to sing it in this really high space, because it’s like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs,” Keys said of the album’s title track. Said happiness washes over the arena-ready dance anthem “New Day”, and what Keys calls the album’s anchor, “Brand New Me”. The latter of the two, one of several writing collaborations with British powerhouse Emeli Sandé, affixes itself to her piano but eventually detonates into a flaming bridge, during which Keys belts, “If you were a friend, you’d want to get to know me again / If you were worth the while, you’d be happy to see me smile.” She might be all happy, happy, joy joy, but the gal’s still got a past.
Frank Ocean collab “One Thing”, a melancholy train journey about “the discovery of the one thing we’re all looking for,” and “101”, a delicate piano track about coming to grips with a lover’s past, halt the record’s danceable tracks and allow Keys to work her voice and piano in the same way that made her a sensation back in 2001. This balance of radio-friendly R&B and piano ballads bursting with her irrefutable talent is a road frequently traveled for this singer, but it’s oh-so-entertaining to watch her set the road ablaze.
Essential Tracks: “Brand New Me”, “When It’s All Over”, and “101”