Overall Critique: Very bland material; nothing memorable. Disappointing for an “AK” fan. Like vanilla ice cream, it isn’t awful, but there are tastier flavors.
Likes: “That's How Strong My Love Is”, “Like the Sea”, and “This Bed”
Dislikes: “Put it in a Love Song”
Sigh. This was a tough album to listen to. Why? Because I LOVE Alicia Keys. I have a HUGE girl crush on Alicia Keys. I have every album; I’ve gone to every tour. That being said, I could not believe how disappointed I was in her fourth album, “The Element of Freedom.” The problem with “Element” is that it’s INCREDIBLY bland. There are 14 tracks (16 if you got the “deluxe” edition) and NONE of them stand out. I didn’t have the moment that I typically do with Alicia, where I think “THIS IS MY SONG!! OMG! I LOVE THIS TRACK!” All of the songs are SEMI-catchy, with SEMI-decent writing, and SEMI-great production. Each song has its PARTS where it’s catchy, has clever lyrics and well-designed production, but none of them have the goods completely. The production is the strongest feature on the album, and again, it never gets up to its full potential. I constantly found myself wanting to fast-forward through tracks and skip tracks. I was bored. I just wanted it to be over. After finishing listening to the album, I could barely remember any track names (this is usually an indicator that an album was forgettable for me), and when I read the track list later, I couldn’t remember what many of the songs sounded like. I listen to the album 3 times to give it a fair shot, and I STILL wasn’t feeling it.
Another criticism: The album is almost nauseatingly sappy. Yes, the topic of love and relationships has been the core of Alicia’s material; however, it’s never been THIS sappy. Alicia sounds obsessively desperate and infatuated; a softer and less edgy feel. On prior records, Alicia may have been romantic, but she always had a tough energy about her. The tough “energy” is nowhere to be found on this record. Furthermore, I feel that Alicia’s sound is progressively becoming less soulful. What’s replacing the soul, I can’t pinpoint (pop or adult contemporary maybe?), but it feels as if the soul train is being left in the station. I may take that back eventually, but at the moment, I feel like the soul is seeping. I don’t mean to penalize her for exploring other genres, but I PERSONALLY enjoy her soul-oriented music more. Furthermore, I find the title confusing. It doesn’t connect with the rest of the album. Keeping with Keys tradition, there’s an opening prelude in which she says “And the day came when the risk it took to remain tightly closed in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom. This is the element of freedom.” The songs that follow fail to explain, illustrate or reinforce this poetic introduction, nor the title. What are you breaking free of? What have you bloomed into? A love sick puppy? I don’t understand. “Element” might grow on me with time, but it’s not looking good. I typically put song-by-song critiques at the end of my reviews, but anything I COULD have said about each song I’ve already said, so I’ll mention songs that I have specific ideas about.
1.“Love is Blind”: The title is self-explanatory. Dramatic music, parts of the song are catchy. The lyrics are kind of weak because they’re typical and predictable. “All of my friends think I'm crazy for loving you, But they don't know there's nothing else I can do…they say I'm losing my mind, I know I'm losing control” ‘cuz love is blind, yahda, yahda, yahda….
2.“That's How Strong My Love Is”: sweet lyrics, I like how metaphorical the song is, great use of analogies. Parts of the song remind me of “Tender Love” by the Force Mc’s
3.“Put in a Love Song” (Feat. Beyonce`): You would think that getting 2 R&B favorites together on a song would make for greatness, but it didn’t here. “Love Song” sounds abruptly random, as it’s a hip-hop esque dance track among love songs. The shoe doesn’t fit here for Alicia in general (doesn’t sound like an “AK” song), and Beyonce sings harder than necessary
4.“This Bed”: prince-esque, great production, so-so lyrics
5.“How it Feels to Fly”: sounds the most like Alicia; doesn’t feel as forced as some of the other tracks.
6. “Empire State of Mind Part II”- It’s great if you: A. Don’t care for Jay-Z or hip-hop, but love Alicia and/or her part on the original or B. Are in a mellow mood. If you love the original as is or are in a “bumpin’” mood, Alicia’s version of “Empire” is just an appetizer for Jay’s version.