Last November, Alicia Keys released her sixth studio album, HERE. While Keys’ choice not to wear makeup — as shown on the gorgeous album art — got plenty of press, the record is the real story.
Here are just a few reasons this album is so good.
- The way she says “I’m Nina Simone” in “The Beginning.” You can just hear the smile on her face.
- “The Gospel,” where she lets you know right from the start that this album isn’t just going to deliver the sweet and beautiful singles we love from Alicia Keys.
“Couldn’t blame me/I’m just giving the facts.”
3. On “Pawn It All,” the juxtaposition of a modern hip hop beat with the piano and vocals of the chorus, which sound like a neighborhood choir practice.
4. What’s more, “Pawn It All” takes the pawn shop, often seen as a place of vice, and presents it as an outlet of virtuous sacrifice.
“Sometimes you gotta do it/Be willing to lose it/Freedom has no price, you know”
5. And those “get on up”s!
6. I wasn’t expecting to get early ’60s Bob Dylan from HERE, but I’ll be damned if “Kill Your Mama” doesn’t evoke the echoing acoustic sound of The Times They Are A-Changin’ and the doomsday warning of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” The lines about crying to the wind and how mama will love you to the grave even hark back to “Ballad of Hollis Brown.”
7. The authentic story that drives “Blended Family (What You Do For Love).” The intimate details in the verses make you believe the song in a way generalizations never could.
“I hate you had to read it in the paper/But everything’s alright with me and your mama”
8. That simple, stark acoustic guitar riff in“Blended Family.”
9. The sweet, earnest swing in “Work On It.” The song uses contemporary production, but it’s also an ode to lasting love that sounds like it could have been written fifty years ago (and I mean that in the best way).
10. In the “Cocoa Butter” interlude where Alicia calls out the dude who seems to think that only women have insecurities.
“You insecure about something. What you insecure about?”
11. Pretty much all the vocals on “More Than We Know,” but damn…when she goes up on the word “do” in the refrain [scrunches up face because its sounds so good].
12. When she calls out her background vocalists at the end of “More Than We Know.” I firmly believe that the right backing vocals can make a good song great.
13. How she quietly delivers that first verse on “Where Do We Begin Now.”
“What they gon’ do ’cause we the same sex?”
14. The piano on “Where do We Begin Now.” I don’t know enough to tell you why it’s so right, but it is.
15. God, where to even start with “Holy War”? The line “baptized in boundaries”? Or “forgiveness is the only real revenge”? The skillful use of guitar? The way the drums in the chorus sound like the gunshots we’ve implicitly deemed acceptable?
In this age of near-nihilistic irony, it’s an artistic risk to say…
“‘Cause peace and love ain’t so far/If we nurse our wounds/before they scar.”
On “Holy War,” Keys poses her most earnest questions with the hard-won self-assurance she brings to the entire album.