Album Remarks & Appraisals:
2009 release, the fourth album from the 12-time Grammy Award winning Pop/R&B diva. The album was produced by Alicia, Kerry Krucial Brothers and Jeff Bhasker and includes the singles 'Doesn't Mean Anything' and 'Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart'. Alicia has sold over 25 million albums worldwide and over 6.7 million digital tracks in the U.S. alone. Elements Of Freedom is yet another big step forward for Alicia. With each album, she has grown as an artist and performer and has achieved commercial success that has lifted her to 'Superstar' status.
"Whenever an artist describes their latest work as "a journey", invariably the only journey a listener wishes to embark on is the one to the off switch. But Keys' canny ability to fox and beguile make The Element of Freedom an unexpected pleasure.
Keys has explained that this, her fourth album, is "a dichotomy of strength and vulnerability". It certainly showcases her willingness to experiment while ruminating on longing and falling for a wrong 'un. Keys' vocal is tender, raw with emotion, and is frequently matched with the noisiest drum programming you'll hear in the context of a multi-platinum, Grammy-rich soul artist. The beats of lead single Doesn't Mean Anything, programmed by Kerry 'Krucial' Brothers (Keys' long-time recording partner and possibly, ex-paramour), were actually rattling things off my speakers.
Perhaps Brothers is the missing, spectral subject matter at the heart of the album. Loss courses through its lyrics: "anticipating a day you'll come home," in Distance and Time; "how can I ever get used to being without you," in Love Is My Disease. It culminates in the tentative hope of new beginnings on How It Feels to Fly. The overall effect is quite surprisingly moving.
Love Is Blind opens the album and is fairly characteristic; it's like a more melodic version of Kanye West's Say You Will. This Bed (with Keys on Moog bass) is the greatest lost Philadelphia International Records' love song you'll hear in a long while; Beyoncé appears and duets on the bright and clattering Put It in a Love Song. The album closes with Keys' own version of Empire State of Mind, building on her vocal refrain and bridge from her collaboration with Jay-Z. If ever a song was awaiting a Broadway show to be written around it, this is it. With the rap removed, its straight, literal descriptions of New York and elegant grand piano mean this is the only time the album strays fully into cliché.
The lasting impression of The Element of Freedom will be the disconnect between the prettiness of the songs and the enormity of the beats. Alicia Keys has just made the US diva album for those who can't abide US divas." - BBC
"According to Alicia Keys, who was battling depression following the loss of a family member, her fourth album was a struggle to conceive. But, as befits the thrust of her songwriting, she overcame adversity to make a confident, well-crafted modern soul record that engages and rewards without doing anything groundbreaking. Almost every track deals with the ups and downs of love and proceeds at a stately pace. The restraint works powerfully on "Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart", but the punchier moments towards the end - the Beyoncé duet and a return to Jay-Z's exuberant "Empire State of Mind" - come as something of a relief." - Guardian
The Element of Freedom is the fourth studio album by American R&B musician Alicia Keys, released December 11, 2009, on J Records. Recording sessions for the album took place during May to September 2009 at The Oven Studios in Long Island, New York. Production was handled by Keys, Jeff Bhasker, Swizz Beatz, Noah "40" Shebib, and Kerry "Krucial" Brothers.
The album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 417,000 copies in its first week. It became Keys' first non-number one album in the United States and her first number one album in the United Kingdom. The Element of Freedom was certified platinum by the RIAA within its first month of release and produced five singles that attained moderate chart success. Despite mixed criticism towards its low-key style and Keys' songwriting, the album received generally positive reviews from most music critics. As of August 4, 2010, it has sold 1,391,300 copies in the United States.
Rolling Stone (p.56) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The superb Prince homages, 'Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart' and 'This Bed,' are experiments that pay off big..."
Entertainment Weekly (p.81) - "[O]ver four albums she's established herself as an increasingly rare thing in pop music: the class act. It's made her a consistently gratifying artist..." -- Grade: A-
Recording information: Conway Studios, LA; Oven Studios, NY; Strawberrybee Studios, NY.
Photographer: Yu Tsai .
Don't mistake the presence of Jay-Z and Beyoncé on Alicia Keys' fourth album as evidence that the singer/songwriter is burrowing into modern R&B -- take it instead as evidence of the rarefied company Keys keeps, her status as a superstar so solidified that the only cameos possible are R&B/hip-hop elite. Superstars are often given leeway to do anything they want, and so it is on The Element of Freedom, where Keys dials back the outward expansion of As I Am and turns inward, creating a clean, small-scale collection of ballads and Prince-inspired pop. Always apparent on Alicia's albums, that Prince influence is underscored by how she's swapped the retro-soul instrumentation of her earliest music for electronics, but she's retained the warmth, the throwback sensibility and, especially, a sense of reserve, never getting too heated or gauche. This does mean the Prince elements feel more NPG than Revolution, but Keys trademark always has been an easy elegance. On The Element of Freedom, that elegance is so easy it borders on the sleepy, with Keys' understatement undercutting livelier numbers -- chief among them the bubbly Beyoncé duet "Put It in a Love Song" -- so they play as ballads. This isn't a complaint so much as a characteristic: her voice may crack on "Love Is My Disease," but Keys never gets gritty, she remains reserved, never letting her singing or arrangements obscure the melodies or the classy veneer of the entire proceedings. All this determined detachment keeps The Element of Freedom from packing a primal, passionate punch, but there is charm in Alicia's enveloping, quiet cool: she may never break a sweat, but she knows how to sustain a sultry, not necessarily sexy, mood, and she does so here quite fetchingly. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine