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"HERE" Stays True To Alicia Keys' New York Roots
Released alongside a short-film entitled ‘The Gospel’, award-winning singer/songwriter and producer Alicia Keys’ sixth studio album ‘HERE’ looks outward onto society. It's packed with conscious, affirming and encouraging messages. Keys doesn’t forget her New York roots either. On 'HERE', she repeatedly shines a light on the bustling, lively city and its much-admired culture.
As the 35-year-old shuffles between the perspectives of an everyday New Yorker, a concerned eco-warrior, a fearless mother-of-two and an impassioned feminist, she comes across as personable and friendly - which makes the album's strong convictions easier to relate to. Like Keys’ bare-faced appearance on the record’s cover artwork, ‘HERE’ is proudly stripped-down and relatively unprocessed. A minimal feel runs right through the LP’s tracklisting.
The Album Goes Back to Basics
Admittedly, there are times when ‘HERE’ seems to sacrifice a sense of dynamism in order to uphold that ideal. The record’s back-to-basics theme occasionally takes its songs into vanilla, middle-of-the-road territory. Even Keys’ scorching rap performance on a song also entitled ‘The Gospel’ doesn’t fully stop it from sucking electricity out of the record—particularly it’s second half.
In spite of all that, ‘HERE’ is the latest in a long line of higher-quality, undeniably consistent R&B/soul records from Alicia Keys. Tracks like ‘Where Do We Begin Now’, ‘Illusion Of Love’ and ‘Work On it’ successfully balance out the project’s lets-all-hold-hands-around-the-world sentiments—which after a while can get sugary and a little bit Bono.
Keys Defends Mother Earth on "Kill Your Mama"
Strengthened by spirited contributions from the song’s backing vocalists, as well as a rousing, standout hook, ‘Pawn It All’ provides a real uplift. Over the tune’s momentous gospel undercurrent, its lyrics depict Keys relinquishing all her material goods in order to start a new life, with only faith and self-love as her guides.
The blissed-out, hip-hop-directed ‘She Don’t Really Care’ explores the life of a young, female New Yorker and celebrates her unstoppable potential. Forthrightly attacking the human race’s treatment of Mother Earth, Keys impacts vehemently on ‘Kill Your Mama.' Supported initially by lonely, bleak guitar accompaniment, Keys essentially raps the track’s verses before cruising into it’s pleading hooks.
Keys Gets Personal On "Blended Family (What You Do for Love)"
Featuring the album’s only guest artist, fellow New Yorker ASAP Rocky, ‘Blended Family (What You Do for Love)’ lovingly and candidly explores the dynamics of Keys’ current familial setup. The track is one of several on ‘HERE’ that goes slightly lukewarm. Still, it’s drenched in calming influences and many families will be able to relate to the struggles mentioned within the tune’s lyrics.
Keys gives a show-stopping performance on ‘Illusion Of Bliss’, many fans will not have heard her quite like this before. ‘Illusion Of Bliss’ depicts a very personal struggle with substance abuse. Amid the track's slowly-unfurling, roomy, sparse arrangements, Keys excels in its edgy unpredictability. At the song’s climax, as its angst-ridden subject self-destructs, Keys drops a round of absolutely unforgettable, tortured vocals.
"Work on It" Blends the Old and the New
Upon a minimal, retro soul setup, ’Work On It’ contains some interesting, progressive production elements. One of which is a West Indian male voice randomly announcing the song’s title again and again. Alongside it’s more classic influences, these tricks anchor ‘Work On It’ to the present day, and a very smart balance is achieved between the two feels. The cut becomes a compelling cauldron of vintage and very new ideas.
The thought-provoking lyrics of ‘Girl Can’t Be Herself’ are also noteworthy. ‘Girl Can’t Be Herself’ questions the everyday social pressures faced by women worldwide. A confused Keys asks, “Why is being unique such an impurity? Why are the numbers on the scale like a God to me?” Over the track’s invigorating Latin, salsa elements, Keys defends herself against the world’s projections with the lyrics, “Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem. Whose job is it to straighten out my curves?”
"Where Do We Begin Now" Sets the Mood
The mood-setting ’Where Do We Begin Now’ is a sexy standout, Keys' sounds titillated right across its playtime. Doused with intricate piano work, the tune boasts a fascinatingly progressive, sturdy R&B instrumental. ’Where Do We Begin Now’ is challenging, unexpected and sensual—all at the same time.
Keys performs unreservedly on casual soul effort ‘More Than We Know.' The track’s supportive lyrics see Keys’ trying to embolden a lover to believe in themselves and aim higher in life. Judging by the interlude ‘You Glow’ which precedes it, it's likely the tune’s hopeful lyrics were written with America’s minority communities in mind.
Keys Calls for World Peace on "Holy War"
Keys asks people to care about each other a little more on ‘Holy War’, the ballad plays out like a protest song against intolerance. It’s soaring hook is crowned by unique beats and heartfelt singing from Keys. Infused with a satisfying, memorable afrobeat flavour, the previously-released single ‘In Common’ is for some reason only included on select international and deluxe versions of ‘HERE’—which is a real shame. The song’s smooth, light aura and sleek production appealingly pads out Keys’ gentle, breathy vocal performance.
Other bonus track ‘Hallelujah’ is directed at a higher power and conjures up religious, spiritual imagery. The song’s chorus is boosted by dramatic, stark drum beats and topped off with clappy gospel elements at its revved climax. ‘Hallelujah’ features a redemptive Keys looking upwards, and begging to be moved from the darkness back into the light.