Alicia Keys - As I Am

Posted November 12, 2007
Tags: Alicia Keys,

When we talk about classic albums we’re really talking about the difference between being hot...

As I Am Album Review

When we talk about classic albums we’re really talking about the difference between being hot - and being beautiful. Let’s think about it in terms we can all relate to: You’re at a party when “the hot girl” walks in, one glance and you’re hooked. Before you know it you’re dating her and it’s great…for a while. Then the initial rush wears off and you’re already searching for the next best thing. Beautiful, on the other hand, lasts a lifetime. And what’s even better is that a truly beautiful woman can always be hot, but a merely hot woman can never be beautiful. You might want to take notes, I'm really breaking it down today.

You date hot, you marry beautiful, and lately the entire DJBooth staff has been thinking up some marriage proposals. What could drive grown men to consider getting down on one knee? It could only be Alicia Keys and her new album As I Am. Keys may not drop the kind of hot tracks that will tear up a club, but there’s no denying the innate beauty that shines through in her music. For over six years now she’s teased us with the promise of a timeless album, the wait is finally over.

Let’s use an example to bring our hot vs. beautiful discussion back to the music: Trey Day was a hot album, As I Am is beautiful. Expect to see a lot of pregnant women in the next nine months thanks to Like You’ll Never See Me Again, a perfect example of Keys’ ability to perfectly balance her classical music roots with her R&B-infused present. The track begins with a music-box piano line that quickly gives way to some serious soul power, due in so small part to Keys’ mesmerizing vocals. If you have a pulse you have to feel this song. Similarly, Lesson Learned uses John Mayer’s considerable talents to help blend blues guitars riffs and a striking piano melody into a musical foundation for Keys to drop some broken-hearted vocals. This is the kind of track the Grammy committee loves, Keys might want to start writing her acceptance speech now.

As I Am isn’t all slowly-paced tearjerkers, the album has plenty of punch too. The lead single No One is driven by a pounding drum line and rolling synths that are equal parts forceful and smooth. Keys takes her always strong voice to another level on No One, we may want to test her for vocal steroids. Great singers do more than just hit the right notes, they hit you with raw emotion (see Mary J. Blige for a tutorial). The singing on No One isn’t always perfect, but neither are relationships, and Keys’ every word rings true. Things really get out of hand on Wreckless Love. One of the most energetic tracks on the album, it uses the same kind of updated 50’s soul sound that Amy Winehouse rode to stardom (except without the rampant heroine use). Orchestral string sections soar over raw horn lines throughout the track, climaxing in a controlled frenzy of musical lovemakin’. Like You’ll Never See Me Again is baby-makin music, Wreckless Love is on-top-of the-kitchen-counter music…if you know what I’m saying, and I hope you do.

As I Am is Keys most musically adventurous album to date, and like any good journey there’s bound to be some missteps along the way. I Need You drops the piano melodies that work so well throughout the album in favor of some dominating percussion and strong guitar lines. Keys delivers an appropriately smashing performance, but the truth is rocking out just isn’t her strength. Sure Looks Good To Me suffers from the same genre-bending problem. Thanks to super-producer Linda Perry it’s the most pop song on the album, and even though it’s plenty good it’s no Wreckless Love. I almost feel bad for criticizing these songs because I want to support Keys’ musical explorations, but she’s just so damn good at R&B it’s hard not to feel disappointed when she strays too far from the piano. On the other hand it's exactly these tracks that elevate As I Am from a good to a great album. Keys has already proven she can write extraordinary songs; this is Keys' best album to date precisely because even the average songs are repeat worthy. As I Am isn’t the hottest R&B album of 2007, it’s the most beautiful, and in the end beauty wins every time.

DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins

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Posted November 12, 2007
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