No one sent out anything early on Alicia Keys’s “Alicia” album, so I’m listening to for the first time at 12:30am after being confused by Justin Bieber’s new single.
The good news is that “Alicia” is a big group effort, a collaboration of many people who worked on a collection that was supposed to be released in March. It’s Keys’s first album since 2016.
Alicia is a sophisticated musician who too often relied on samples and other people’s material to launch her own work. This revealed a kind of glibness in her ability to repurpose the R&B vernacular. So we were constantly having to dig out little pieces of old songs like gold in the sand.
This may be the case here, but on first listen she’s got some very catchy songs that sound like they will stand the test of replays. There’s some reggae, some beats you think you’ve heard before, but it’s made to sound original enough.
The first five songs are so solid that she’s got you whether you like it or not. (Sequencing an album, even in these days, works.) I really liked “Time Machine,” “Authors of Forever,” the unusual reggae number, “Wasted Time,” and, of course, “Underdog,” a song that was marketed beautifully earlier this year with Apple. It’s a great single. No equivocating. (Okay, it does have six songwriters including Ed Sheeran. Oy.) Alicia featured it on this past year’s Grammys. It’s a killer.
Let’s move into the meat of the album: “3 Hour Drive” features Brit soul singer-writer Sampha, and has a life of its own. Very Stevie Wonder circa “Music of My Mind” and Roberta Flack 1971. There are four or five mellow R&B songs that follow, very melodic, piano driven. “Love Looks Better” would have been a huge hit single once, maybe it can be now. I was very interested in the “Jill Scott” song and it has a nice pay off. “Perfect Way to Die” recalls “Empire State of Mind,” but I still think it could jump out with the right video.
“Alicia” starts with a bang, ends with a whimper, but I’d put it in my rotation. Will kids run to it like a Taylor Swift album? Oh no, That ship has sailed. But fans who love good music, carefully and thoughtfully composed, will want “Alicia” on their phones or stereos if they still have em. Conclusion: we need “Alicia” more than we don’t.