Review: Alicia Keys’ new album is a ritual in self-care

“ALICIA,” Alicia Keys’ highly anticipated album dropped Sept. 18, and can be summarized as experimental R&B meets Keys’ legendary vocals.

by Meg Bishop

Alicia Keys has stood for decades now as an R&B vocal treasure and feminist who is unapologetically passionate about her drive to be wholly seen beyond one facet of her identity.

Keys, on hiatus since 2016, broke her silence Sept. 18 to give fans “ALICIA,” a 15-track proclamation album depicting all that she is. The album is deeply rooted in spotlighting the power of the individual, with lyrics grounded in intellectual empathy. “HERE,” Key’s 2016 album that dove into her past, her ancestry and life in the boroughs of New York, also praised individualism.

The feelings “ALICIA” evokes are controlled by continuously inserting callouts in the tracks. “What if to you I was just Alicia?” It’s a brilliant question, one she poses in the first track of the project, “Truth Without Love.” Keys unapologetically spills her frustrations about never being seen as an individual apart from her fame. She understands that there are people who hold presumptions about her, and she makes a persuasive argument asking people to accept her as the person she knows herself to be.

It must also be pointed out that the production quality of her tracks is indescribably authentic and experimental, compared to other R&B artists. “Time Machine,” the second track of the album, and arguably one of the best, is reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Lil Wayne’s “Mirror” but carpeted with funk pop. On the track, Keys reflects on herself and how her past and present choices directly influence the future of those around her — most importantly, her family.

On “Underdog” Keys chronicles the pain of people who have lived through some of the worst life has to offer. She implores listeners to view people in their true context, below the surface of one glance.

The seventh track, “Me x 7,” is a quintessential piece to “ALICIA.” On it, Keys laments how enveloping herself in her professional agendas, alongside the craziness of being a mother and wife, has taken a toll on her self-care and mental state. For just a moment, Keys desires to make the world her own, exactly seven times. It is simple to seek out moments dedicated to de-stressing but a great hurdle for Keys when under pressures from her daily life.

“So Done” arrives mid-way through the album and features pop artist Khalid, in addition to some smooth lo-fi beats. The song fits perfectly into the tracklist with the repeated lyrics, “I’m living the way that I want.” Listening to the track feels like an act of self-care.

“ALICIA” is a precise map explicitly giving voice to Keys’ journey of self reflection.