The Manhattan soul singer blends 80s influenced pop, hip hop beats and stylish production for an album that is crisp and cool despite suffering from a series of slightly cheesy moments.
It's been eight years since Alicia Keys' debut single 'Fallin'' saw her shoot up the charts with an old-school soul vibe and a voice to challenge even the most established of her peers. In those eight years, Keys has never quite managed to replicate that initial success, nor has she ever equalled her US status on this side of the Atlantic. Alicia's recent hit 'Empire State of Mind', with Jay-Z was the perfect preface to The Element of Freedom, a quiet reminder of what the New York singer is capable of.
A short spoken word intro gets The Element of Freedom off to a slightly jarring start, but Keys is soon back on track as her trademark piano is joined by ghostlike backing vocals and retro guitar on the despondent 'Love Is Blind'. Once again, the combination of delicate, minimalist piano and electronic beats is used to Keys advantage on standout track 'Love Is Like The Sea'. Whether a sturdy quiver or a coarse, sultry crack Keys' voice is always strong and controlled. Only when placed alongside the awesome Beyoncé on rhythm-centric hip-hop number 'Put It In A Love Song' does Keys' vocal pale in comparison. She can be heard most potently on the re-worked 'Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down', making it feel more like the original song than a "break down".
Mellower moments don't do Keys justice though, as the album's modern touches are sidelined in favour of soppy love songs. 'Love Is My Disease' and 'How It Feels To Fly' are just that bit too familiar, stylistically and lyrically. 'Distance and Time' is tainted by a naff dedication to "all the lovers who can't be together", and though the sweet piano and soft melody of 'That's How Strong My Love Is' give it charm and class, its lyrics are just a tad derivative.
But despite this intrinsically American inclination towards the sentimental, the overriding feeling of The Element of Freedom is still one of smooth modern soul and alluring R&B.