Entertainment, Film and Music
Alicia Keys – The Girl who has Everything
I remember sitting at home one day when a friend came by to visit; I was listening to a new Alicia Keys CD. She picked up the cover and said “I don’t like this girl”. Something about the half-joking, half-serious lilt of her voice told me she didn’t really mean it but I pretended to be shocked. “How so?”, I asked. She went on “it can’t be fair that someone who looks so gorgeous can also be so damned talented; it just isn’t fair!” In an instant, she had summed up the phenomenon that is Alicia, the girl who has everything.
Her career is now five albums deep (if you count the ‘MTV Unplugged’ set) and she just keeps on getting better. If you’re reading this, the chances are that you know her stuff well enough and might be wondering why we’re doing a career retrospective on her now. Well, as if she didn’t already have everything, it has recently been announced that she is soon to have a baby. So, we thought there’s a chance she might take a break for a while. And, whilst she takes that pause, let us pause and reflect on a modern musical great. And, on what she has already added to our music’s rich tapestry.
No need to beat about the bush, this is not so much a critical reappraisal, but more of an unabashed appreciation for someone who has given great delight to millions through her music. She is in that class of artist who appeals to men and women, the young and the old, soul heads and the hip-hop crowd. Think of other singers, male and female, who came out on the scene at the same time; many of them are still around but how many of them are still firing on all cylinders?
Remember when she burst on the scene, as if from nowhere, signed to Clive Davis’ ‘J Records’; with songs like Fallin’, How come you don’t call me etc. on that debut CD ‘Songs in A minor’?
She had that classy, soulful edge to her songs and her singing to impress those who imagined they’d heard it all before where vocal prowess was concerned, whilst still having the vocal and musical chops to impress the younger R‘n’B crowd. If folks are honest, most will admit that by the time the second CD was due, the worry was could she pull it off again? When that second CD (The Diary of…) hit, it was clear she had taken her music to another level.
This one gave her the hits If I Ain’t Got You and the killer tune You don’t know My Name, to name a couple. And, it wasn’t just the music-buying public that was impressed; the music industry sat up and took notice: she was showered with more Grammy Awards for that album alone than some people get in a twenty-year career.
There was a clear progression and maturity from the first album. When she did the MTV Unplugged gig, she flipped the script towards the end of the show by bringing on to the stage Damian Marley, who was hot at the time with the mega-hit Welcome to Jamrock. He came on and ‘wrecked it’! What this showed was that our girl was just as comfortable with different genres of music. She had featured on the remix of Cham’s (formerly Babycham) Ghetto Story; a reworking that made a big tune even bigger! Fittingly, for someone who is about to embrace motherhood, the most recent album shows an impressive maturity, a willingness to take chances and a refusal to rest on her laurels – and what laurels she has to rest on, should she so choose! Although there have always been elements of other types of genres influencing her music (i.e. not just the obvious Soul and R ‘n’ B), the Soul influence has always held sway.
Lurking in there has also always been a barely-disguised ‘pop’ sensibility that she has given free rein to on this latest album. It’s a bold step to take but if you’ve followed her career, you really wouldn’t expect anything else. There could be nothing more tempting for an artist than to keep repeating a successful formula and selling shed loads of records – there are many ‘if-it-ain’t broke-don’t-fix-it’ musical merchants out there after all; those lazy folks who keep putting out what is essentially the same album year after year. It is with some satisfaction that she must look and realise that she has ‘taken the audience’ with her.
They too, have embraced her musical eclecticism in a way that embarrasses all those artists, who, when they are challenged at their lack of musical adventurism will say “that’s what my audience expects”, totally underestimating the intelligence of their fans. That is something Alicia Keys can never be accused of; she keeps on moving on and moving on up. She is one Super Soul Sister. When it comes to quality and musical consistency, it might upset some folks to hear it but she really is the ‘Real, New Queen of Soul’! And, long may she reign! Ade Daramy Sports Editor