An artist’s sound is something which defines their music. It places them within a genre, giving them a general market base, and making the records more accessible for the mere peasantry of consumers today. Groups such as Goldie Lookin’ Chain (GLC) have very much achieved grounding in the ever flourishing genre of White Welsh Comedy Rap, and ‘Nu-Ravers’ The Klaxons simply invented a misspelt genre of noise so as to dominate what they seem to think is a scene.
Alicia Keys has led and inspired many female artists in the RnB genre with her inclusion of soft melodic piano orientated tunes, something which has been quite a refreshing escape from the bottomless pit of RnB pop artists, where some cretin producer churns out a so called album in a day by sampling/stealing various sound clips from other people’s songs and having it mixed down in garage band (after just buying a Mac and making the most of his new free software). As I Am is Keys’ third studio instalment, and it isn’t surprising that there’s sign of a new sound direction after six years and worldwide album sales of twenty-six million. This move is the perfect example of questioning whether a change is worthwhile after such success with a certain format.
The album really shines and flourishes when Keys finds herself in her comfort zone of soft and soulful piano melodies. ‘Like You’ll Never See Me Again’ and ‘Prelude To A Kiss’ are the types of songs which melt your brain with an amalgamation of lyrics, music and composition and make you wish that that whole album was similar. The other standout track similar to this is ‘Lesson Learned’, co-written with pop/blues guitarist John Mayer, which has ‘Grammy Award Winning Hit’ garnished all over it, with an extra layer of hatred of the perfection that such a song could create.
I have to admit now that overall I prefer Keys’ older records over her latest release. The record is a good release and incredibly worthy of purchasing, however it seems to lack a clear grounding in what and even where it’s trying to place itself amongst other artists. Parts of it such as the immensely satisfying and catchy ‘Teenage Love Affair’ keep the music within its pop roots; capturing the excitement and fun of young love. However, other tracks such as ‘Go Ahead’, and ‘No One’ seem more droning rather than catchy, which effectively makes them kind of unmemorable and possibly even goes as far as to class themselves as ‘filler tracks’, which surely isn’t quite the idea when they are so obviously supposed to be quite standout songs on the album. They remind you of RnB divas such as Mary J Blige and Whitney Houston, and the comparison can even be heard in the vocals in places, which frankly aren’t suited to Keys’ vocals, resulting in what is effectively a moan.
John Mayer best described the album before it came out in one of his blogs where he stated it as ‘brave’. Everything about this is true and you have to commend Keys for trying out something different knowing some parts will be successful and other parts less so. The album is in no way perfect, and many of the chord progressions featured have been accomplished before elsewhere in music, however there remains a large listenable factor to the record as a whole, and despite it’s imperfections I find myself constantly listening to it. The record’s imperfections aren’t failures but more foundations of better things to come once refined. I just hope she avoids the soul power ballad diva within her, because if that’s unleashed...