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alicia keys -- as i am (review)
is the third time the charm for the multiplatinum songstress?
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)

2 1/2 out of 4

A rhetorical question: Are people are more in love with the "idea" of Alicia Keys than the actual person? Sure, she's gorgeous and plays the piano and puts on one hell of a live show and has at least three songs ("Fallin'," "You Don't Know My Name," and "If I Ain't Got You") that are instant classics by almost any definition. Still, her hype is disproportionate to her consistency. While that's not necessarily her fault, the hope was that her third studio album -- the revealingly titled As I Am -- was where all the scattered fragments of her potential would finally bloom.

Whatever she learned from making her 2005 Unplugged album is all over As I Am. The symphonic harmonies of the first full track, "Go Ahead," as well as tracks like the sing along, stutterstepping "I Need You" just simply wouldn't have happened without the benefit of that experience. She's experimenting with background vocals, instrumentation and tempo changes (the last, in particular, seems to be a lost art) and when it works, it works well. But like her other albums, every song is either exceptionally good or exceptionally mediocre. The first half of the album sets a bar that the second half doesn't necessarily live up to. This critique is offered fully understanding that nobody really listens to albums anymore, but that doesn't stop some of the songs in question from running together or sounding like "good ideas" for songs instead of distinctive entities.

After covering Prince's "How Come You Don't Call Me" on her debut, the Purple's One's influence is felt again on the breathy, stunning second-single, "Like You'll Never See Me Again," even down to the "Purple Rain"-like refrain at the edge of the hook. The powerful album closer, "Sure Looks Good to Me," is a rock anthem in hiding; no surprise it is one of two songs co-written by Linda Perry. "Wreckless Love" is funky fresh, thanks in part to the presence of the hopelessly underrated Jack Splash. "That's The Thing About Love" starts small, takes over the world, then returns to its' humble origins. These last two are two of the most soulful songs any popular artist has recorded in the last 10 years.

Is this her best and most consistent album? Absolutely, and it's not even close. She is promoted as the second coming of Aretha/Stevie/(insert great legendary black soul artist here) and she'll get there eventually, but because of her general lack of competition, the tendency is to overlook the general awkwardness of her songwriting and the fact that her vocals are straining through a lot of "No One." She's clearly growing and trying, but the kind of greatness she aspires to needs to be fleshed out through constant recording, the kind that many of today's stars rarely do because they're too busy being movie stars and megamoguls. The hope -- now that Ms. Keys is the proud owner of a New York City recording studio -- is that this process will begin soon.

Because she's really close.


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

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graham haynes
11.21.07 @ 1:11p

I agree with your critique by and large. But Alicia Keys is just a mainstream product, nothing more, and that's what you get here. It's obvious she can't sing very well and some people allow her looks to compensate. In a blind world she would step back and just be a songwriter.

You see, Neo-Soul was born with D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar" and died with Alicia Keys' "Falling". Same hairstyle, same influences, both piano players, similar marketing. But one was authentic and one was a fabrication; the problem was that the audience failed to see the difference. Once that line is gone, the movement is over.

On that note, I'm back to listening to Little Dragon's new album. Peace.

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