Alicia Keys is at her most present on HERE, the week’s best new album

For the past fifteen years, Alicia Keys has been a steady voice in music. While she reached her commercial peak on The Diary of Alicia Keys and As I Am, her album’s have always featured at least one defining anthem, from The Element of Freedom‘s “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” or Girl On Fire‘s title-track. It was a little disappointing then, when her excellent early 2016 single “In Common” failed to launch, despite its tropical influence and smooth melody. Keys’ vocals were less show-stopping than lived in, a trait most of her bigger hits share. “If I Ain’t Got You” and “No One” wowed with Keys’ undeniable vocal force and restraint, while “In Common” featured a breathy, atmospheric performance. And while that song is absent from Here, released by Keys on November 4, it still informs what is her most cohesive, fluid album to date.

The album feels inspired by the late 1990s soul epics including The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Voodoo as Keys sings over some of her most soulful compositions to date. “The Gospel,” “She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv” and “Illusion of Bliss” are Keys at her most expansive, while tracks such as “Pawn It All,” “Blended Family” and “Work On It” have the sound of FM radio ingrained in their DNA. But perhaps the most fascinating moment occurs near the end of the album on the penultimate track. “Where Do We Begin Now” finds Keys explicitly referencing her sexual fluidity. “What they gon do ’cause we the same sex,” she sings off the bat, and by drawing a line in the sand so immediately, she doesn’t have to show off with provocative imagery the rest of the way. It’s almost understated, until husband Swizz Beats’ chilled out electronics ground the song in an interesting reality. Whereas her previous albums have tilted more towards public approval than personal growth, she flips the script on Here. There’s no pressure to achieve the same success as “If I Ain’t Got You” or “No One,” and Keys thrives in the low stakes environment. Fifteen years into her career, Here shows Alicia Keys to still be an essential voice in popular music. While not the commercial force she was a decade ago, her presence is stronger than ever.

Stream Here via Apple Music.

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