Album Review: Alicia Keys: “The Element of Freedom”

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 freedom to be is a powerful concept. People die in the name of it. They march for it. Spend a lifetime expressing it. Celebrate it in art forms. Freedom within seems hardest to possess. Fear can paralyze the mind. Anxiety can suffocate and stifle self-certainty. They can crush a spirit and make your own image unrecognizable in a mirror. Fear clouds any notion of freedom in those moments. But the element, the idea of freedom, of a life without oppression of any kind, gives hope. Sometimes just the idea of freedom is enough to break through.

On her last album, As I Am, Alicia Keys wrote mantras like “Superwoman” to get her through a tough time. On her latest, The Element Of Freedom, she continues on a journey of love, in all its beauty and pain.

The album starts in full force with the powerful reggae-tinged “Love Is Blind,” about a love that crashes in so hard there’s no escaping its hold: “All of my friends think I’m crazy for loving you/ But they don’t know/ There’s nothing else I can do.” On the hit single “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart,” Alicia’s voice reverberates softly against the powerful drums.

The inspiring “Wait Til You See My Smile” starts a rally cry in your soul: “You’re stronger and you’re better and you’re ready for whatever.” Alicia explores her vocal range throughout The Element of Freedom, soaring on the hit single “Doesn’t Mean Anything,” and softening on “How It Feels To Fly.” Drake joins her on “Un-thinkable,” when she gives in to a love she’s tried to fight.

Mostly a collection of ballads, The Element of Freedom contains just two uptempo tracks. “This Bed” is an 80s style love song that would have made a great roller skating jam back in the day. “Put It In A Love Song” featuring Beyonce cleverly samples Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”

The Deluxe Edition includes acoustic performances and official videos, making the album an even more intimate experience. Alicia starts her live version of “Empire State of Mind Part II” with a symphonic version of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?”

With every album Alicia has gradually shed her layers. The Element of Freedom is a slight departure from the r&b sound that made her famous. She doesn’t stay in the same place musically, and it makes her such a fresh and dynamic artist.

Alicia Keys is evolving as a songstress, a philanthropist, and as a person. In just a few short years she has become a prolific songwriter fit to join the ranks of the legendary Carole King and Roberta Flack.

A legend before the age of 30. There’s nothing more powerful than the freedom to be.

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