When Alicia sings, she’s always on key

Alicia Keys releases her fourth album, proving she’s still on point but growing into her sound.

by Megan Kadrmas

Some people are just totally in love with love. Apparently, R&B pop diva Alicia Keys is one of those people.

On her fourth album, “As I Am,” Keys is about as gaga over love as a 13-year-old girl is over Zac Efron. All 14 tracks of Keys’ latest work stem from the idea of love, touching on everything from loving advice from Grandma to the flurried emotions of that first major crush.

Mainly, the songs on “As I Am” break down the manic-depressive frenzy most lovebirds experience. Perhaps this has something to do with Keys’ own romance with her long-time song writing partner, Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, whose influence is felt heavily on “As I Am.”

Brothers gets executive producer credits on Keys’ three major studio albums, from her break-out success “Songs in A Minor” to her current lovefest on “As I Am.” The R&B duo reportedly started crafting hauntingly delicate piano melodies in the early 1990s.

The couple can’t seem to keep their private life separate from their musical creations, as each song on “As I Am” oozes with the mountaintop highs and Ben and Jerry lows of love, love, love.

In one moment, Keys is on top of the world, declaring her undying love for that certain someone special.

Like in the album’s first single, the instantly successful “No One,” where a catchy blend of soul, hip-hop and pop support a cute and confident Keys, resolutely belting it out about how no one stands in between her and her man. The song is one of the album’s more successful upbeat ballads. It maintains a happiness that is often hard to carry on the piano, an instrument that seems oh-so-right for soulful, bluesy stories.

When Keys comes down from the mountaintop of falling in love, she discusses falling out of love with equal skill and talent.

Like on the assertive yet pretty “Go Ahead,” another successful power ballad on the album, Keys demonstrates her mass appeal. She’s the nice girl down the block; she knows the streets but doesn’t get caught up in them. She has that confidence and quiet power that comes from being sure about yourself and your capabilities. She’s not a sex kitten, but something about her is incredibly sexy. The song explores the smoky, husky side of Keys’ voice. She is supported through the empowering, “get up outta here” chorus by a choir of similar-sounding women. Keys sounds assertive and self-assured, but still manages to project a sweet, innocently sexy vibe.

In fact, it is when Keys loses this mixture of bold confidence and demure sexiness that “As I Am” falters.

On “I Need You,” where Keys essentially is trying to convince a lover that they need each other, she loses her confidence in favor of whiny begging. This immature pleading is most unappealing from a woman who has made a career out of female empowerment.

Although Keys stumbles on a couple of tracks, “As I Am” is an overwhelmingly beautiful album that sits atop her earlier attempts.

Many of the tracks, especially the stripped piano-and-vocal numbers, are positively gorgeous. Despite the cheesy sounding title, “Prelude to a Kiss” is one of these simple, raw and melodic gems.

“Sure Looks Good to Me,” another organic piano track, is perhaps the strongest song on the album. Keys’ forceful, commanding voice raises goose bumps as she croons over a basic piano and drum tune. The song builds from quiet and pretty to a potent blend of blues-inspired vocals with gospel influences.

Her own love affair may have more than a little something to do with her love affair with love on “As I Am.” But with a truly heavenly voice and some real musical talent, Keys demands respect and commands attention throughout the lovefest.