NEW MUSIC: ALICIA KEYS | KEYS
Singer-songwriter Alicia Keys is back with a uniquely conceived double album titled "KEYS," but both has a laidback and positive side. Her eighth studio album, which is an hour and a half and 26 tracks long: it’s effectively the same album twice, first in “broken down” “Originals” versions – the exact phrase she used to describe her piano-and-vocals performance of "Empire State of Mind" – then versions described as “Unlocked,” which feature Mike Will Made It co-producing with Keys. The first album exists in a space bordered by classic soul, early-70s singer-songwriters, the more upmarket end of MOR and jazz, which is pretty much where Keys started, albeit without a song as undeniable as her breakthrough hit "Fallin." There is good material. Things pick up considerably on Keys Unlocked: the jump in excitement levels between the Originals version of "Only You" and its “produced” version – decorated with snatches of sampled vocals and the occasional burst of gunfire – is immediately striking. Sometimes the improvements are straightforward: the retro-soul ballad "Old Memories" has its tempo picked up. But, like Keys’ notion of pandemic productivity, it’s all relative. Unlocked is a better album than Originals, but not a fantastic album in its own right. You’re left with an album that seems to say less about Alicia Keys’ boundless creativity than it does about both the art of the record producer and the limitations of said art, which can improve an average song but can’t transform one into something extraordinary.