Posts Tagged ‘Alicia Keys’

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Top 10 albums of 2012.

December 17, 2012

It’s that time of year again! Here are my top 10 albums of the year. Enjoy and please share your 2012 music picks! 🙂

10. Usher – Looking 4 Myself

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It doesn’t recapture the heady heights of My Way or 8701, but it’s an effort that tries to combine R&B, dance and pop with a newfound maturity. Highlights: Climax, I Care For U, Lemme See, Looking 4 Myself, Euphoria

 

9. B.Slade – Deep Purple

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He does it again! After the excellent Diesel and Stealth albums, B.Slade hits us with Deep Purple. His beats and vocals are sicker than what mainstream is ready for – it feels like real R&B. Highlights: PHONy PONy, TwerK, Deep Purple, Lo Siento

8. Alicia Keys – Girl On Fire

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Alicia Keys has yet to make a bad album. This album has a quiet beauty, maturity and warmth to it, which is appropriate considering her newfound motherhood. Highlights: Brand New Me, When It’s All Over, New Day, Girl On Fire, Not Even The King

7. Brandy – Two Eleven

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A well-deserved hit single heralded this unabashedly R&B album. Brandy’s voice is once again harmonious and emotive; the beats are once again forward-thinking. It feels like coming home. Highlights: Wildest Dreams, Let Me Go, Without You, Put It Down, What You Need

6. Tamia – Beautiful Surprise

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One of the best vocalists around, this is more classic R&B that just hits all the right spots. It’s wonderfully romantic and a sweet delight to listen to. Highlights: Give Me You, It’s Not Fair, Still Love You, Still

5. Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

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A new voice and a new style that started of the year with a sophisticated bang. Lana Del Rey also demonstrated she knows how to make an artful music video (see: National Anthem, Ride). The Paradise re-release was a nice addition to this record, but the original album was solid all the way through and married Nancy Sinatra with deep beats. Highlights: Born To Die, Blue Jeans, Video Games, National Anthem, This Is What Makes Us Girls.

4. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (read the full-length review here)

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A schizophrenic album that calculatedly veers between popular music styles, but is stuffed with so many hits that it’s undeniable. Nicki Minaj’s re-release The Re-Up only added 7 more top tracks to the era. Highlights: Roman Holiday, Come On A Cone, I Am Your Leader, Beez In The Trap, Starships, Pound The Alarm, Automatic, Beautiful Sinner, Fire Burns, Gun Shot, Freedom, I’m Legit, The Boys (yes, that many!)

3. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (read the full-length review here)

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An architect of brave new R&B and soul that breaks boundaries and touches hearts, Frank Ocean has arrived with an album that transcends the sum of its parts. Highlights: Thinkin Bout You, Sweet Life, Pyramids, Lost, Bad Religion, Forrest Gump

2. Jessie Ware – Devotion 

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Her music is like a young, modern Sade. Irresistible, fresh, smooth and beautiful from beginning to end. An exciting new talent that sounds classic and up to date all at once. Highlights: the whole thing.

1. Rihanna – Unapologetic (read the full-length review here)

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Rihanna proved that she can equal Rated R. An album full of emotionally resonant, musically forward-thinking songs that epitomise what pop is and should be in 2012. Highlights: Diamonds, Numb, Loveeeeeee Song, Jump, What Now, Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary, Get It Over With, Lost In Paradise, Half Of Me

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believing in me.

August 10, 2010

Yesterday I performed three songs at the BAYS (Bristol Active Youth Group) 2010 summer party: “Russian Roulette” by Rihanna, “No One” by Alicia Keys and “You Lost Me” by Christina Aguilera. I was privileged that Ness invited me to perform, and it also gave me the opportunity to prove several things to myself.

  1. I hadn’t performed in front of an audience for a few years, and I wanted to know that I still had what it takes to entertain people and that my voice was still enjoyable for people to listen to.
  2. That I was capable of singing 3 relatively vocally-intense songs in succession, in front of an audience without messing up or without my voice failing me. Basically, that I could do justice to the material I had chosen.
  3. That I could still competently sing these songs despite the fact that I am now a smoker.
  4. That, despite my absence from performing, I could perform through the nerves.

I am happy to report that I proved all of these things to myself and I did a great job: everyone seemed to enjoy my performances and was very complimentary about my voice; one girl even said she wanted to marry me! (I think Toby would have something to say about that!) So that was lovely: I also enjoyed watching Ness dance to Lady GaGa, and there was an MC beatboxing who was fantastically talented… some of what I saw would put celebrity musicians to shame. It was touching to see young talent on display in my community, and moreover, a group of young people coming together to do something positive for their community.

Then, today I have just come back from my driving lesson. Despite the fact that it’s taking a lot longer to reach my driving test than I originally anticipated, I finally got roundabouts 100% sorted out (my last problem area) and now I feel that I will be capable of doing everything I need to in my driving test. Plus, my driving instructor was less of a fool this time than he was last week. So I am feeling good: this is the way I like to start a week, with a sense of positive accomplishment two days in a row.  I hope this continues, especially considering that the time has finally come to start my new job at Cirencester College on Monday. I have to keep up my sense of self-belief, because this is how I can keep transforming and improving my life. 🙂

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Top 20 albums of 2009.

December 25, 2009

Hello everyone, and Merry Christmas!  I have compiled (and it was startlingly easy) my top 20 albums of 2009 (if you know me, you know it’ll be an R&B female-dominated affair as usual!).  Unlike last year, when I listed 10 and did mini reviews, this time I’ve got 20 (since my shortlist came to 20 albums, I thought it would just be easier to rank 11-20, than pick out some for Honourable Mentions).  No mini-reviews, or I would be here forever, and I think my blog posts are long enough without breaking the 5000 word barrier!  So I’ve just put the best and worst tracks from each album with the album cover, and hopefully you’ll be intrigued to download my favourite songs of 2009.  And while you’re at it, you can download my own album, Quiet Storm, here too! So without further ado…

20. Utada HikaruThis Is The One (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Come Back To Me, Apple And Cinnamon, This One (Crying Like A Child), On And On

Skip = Automatic Part II, Poppin’

19. Electrik RedHow To Be A Lady Volume 1

Highlights = Muah, P Is For Power, W.F.Y., Drink In My Cup, Kill Bill

Skip = So Good, Friend Lover, On Point

18. Lady GaGaThe Fame Monster

Highlights = Bad Romance, Alejandro, Monster, Teeth

Skip = Speechless, So Happy I Could Die

17. Joss StoneColour Me Free!

Highlights = Could Have Been You, Stalemate, Girlfriend On Demand

Skip = Incredible, Parallel Lines, Governmentalist

16. Cheryl Cole3 Words

Highlights = 3 Words, Parachute, Heaven, Fight For This Love, Boy Like You

Skip = everything else!

15. Chrisette MicheleEpiphany

Highlights = Blame It On Me, Epiphany (I’m Leaving), Notebook, On My Own

Skip = What You Do, Another One, Mr. Right

14. Nicki Minaj – Beam Me Up Scotty

Highlights = I Get Crazy, Kill Da DJ, Mind On My Money, Keys Under Palm Trees, Beam Me Up Scotty

Skip = Best I Ever Had, Easy

13. MýaBeauty & The Streets Vol. 1

Highlights = About My B.I., Show Me Something, Boss, Club Go Crazy, Work It Out, Black Out

Skip = Go Hard Or Go Home, The Only One, Full Service

12. Robin ThickeSex Therapy

Highlights = Sex Therapy, Meiplé, Shakin’ It For Daddy, Elevatas, Make U Love Me

Skip = Million Dolla Baby, I Got U, Mona Lisa

11. Alicia KeysThe Element Of Freedom (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Doesn’t Mean Anything, Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart, Love Is My Disease, Distance And Time, Empire State Of Mind (Part II)

Skip = Love Is Blind, Wait Til You See My Smile, Like The Sea, This Bed

10. The-DreamLove vs Money

Highlights = My Love, Take U Home 2 My Mama, Fancy, Right Side Of My Brain

Skip = Walkin’ On The Moon, Sweat It Out, Love vs Money, Let Me See The Booty

9. Keri HilsonIn A Perfect World…

Highlights = Turnin’ Me On, Get Your Money Up, Knock You Down, Make Love, Energy, Where Did He Go

Skip = Intuition, Slow Dance, How Does it Feel

8. Black Eyed Peas The E.N.D.

Highlights = Boom Boom Pow, Rock That Body, Imma Be, Electric City, Mare

Skip = Alive, Missing You, Rockin To The Beat

7. ShakiraShe Wolf (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Did It Again, Why Wait, Men In This Town, Mon Amour

Skip = Gypsy, Spy

6. Trey SongzReady

Highlights = I Invented Sex, I Need A Girl, LOL :-), Black Roses, Yo Side Of The Bed

Skip = Jupiter Love, Does He Do It, Be Where You Are

5. AmerieIn Love & War

Highlights = Heard ‘Em All, Higher, Swag Back, Different People, Dear John

Skip = Tell Me You Love Me, Red Eye, Pretty Brown

4. LeToyaLady Love (read my full review here!)

Highlights = She Ain’t Got…, Not Anymore, Good To Me, Regret, I Need A U, Don’t Need You

Skip = Take Away Love, After Party, Tears

3. CiaraFantasy Ride (read my full review here!)

Highlights = High Price, Like A Surgeon, Never Ever, Work, Keep Dancin’ On Me, I Don’t Remember

Skip = Ciara To The Stage, Love Sex Magic, Lover’s Thing

2. RihannaRated R (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Hard, Russian Roulette (check out my single review here!), Fire Bomb, Rude Boy, G4L, The Last Song

Skip = Rockstar 101

1. Mariah CareyMemoirs Of An Imperfect Angel (read my full review here!)

Highlights = H.A.T.E.U., Ribbon, Angels Cry, I Want To Know What Love Is, Candy Bling

Skip = It’s A Wrap

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Alicia Keys – The Element Of Freedom (album review).

December 6, 2009

Alicia Keys’ new album The Element Of Freedom comes after her biggest success so far, As I Am, in a career which hasn’t had any troughs or lows to date.  Every album she’s released, from Songs In A Minor to the present has explored depth and soul, has combined traditional elements of R&B with current, up to date production and lyrical exploration of love, loss and self-esteem in a genuinely mature fashion that is beyond Keys’ years.  She’s consistently walked the fine line between critical and commercial success, effectively having her cake and eating it since 2002.  Alicia Keys plays the piano like a professional, but is not an entertainer who hides behind her instrument – she takes risks, sings and dances on stage, and has always commanded respect with an element of political and social awareness to boot.  So what does her new album bring to the table?

Like Rihanna’s Rated R, The Element Of Freedom is impossible to divorce from the singer’s personal life context. Keys has suffered some backlash for her love affair with separated-but-not-divorced super-producer Swizz Beatz.  Fans have turned away from Keys’ maturity and moral standpoints expressed in her material to date, saying that she was phony, that she was no better than the singers who dressed and acted like hos, and the lackluster success (i.e. it didn’t shoot straight to #1 as people presumed it would) of first single “Doesn’t Mean Anything” is perhaps because of this.  Despite a simple yet effective video which sticks to the album concept of being free of material things and going beyond all boundaries, the song was solid but seemed like a softer retread of her previous hit “No One”.  Nevertheless, especially since I’m certainly not in a position to judge Keys’ being in love with a man who is attached, the music is far from bad, and second single “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” as well as her collaborations with Jay-Z, “Empire State Of Mind (Parts 1 & 2)” seem to be coming closer to replicating her usual success.

Here’s to hoping that The Element Of Freedom continues Keys’ string of successes.  Alicia said of the album that “”The way that the songs progress are gonna take you on a natural high. I just want you to feel a sense of freedom, I want you to feel out-of-the-box, feel inspired, You’re definitely going to be taken on a trip, I know you’re going to be shocked, you’re going to hear things that you probably didn’t think that I would sound like. It’s a journey.”  Some of this I agree with, some of it I don’t hear myself.  “Doesn’t Mean Anything” and “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” both build to exhilarating climaxes, not because the music is especially bombastic (it’s anything but, though “Broken Heart” has a compelling drum loop that comes closer to bringing Kanye West’s 808 fascination into the 21st century than he himself seems to be able to manage).  Standout tracks “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Love Is My Disease”, “Distance And Time” and closer “Empire State Of Mind (Part II)” all employ soaring melodies that propel the listener to think and to ride their own emotions; Keys’ production and piano backing compliment each song without ever taking centre stage (as happened on occasion in her first two albums).  Its undeniable that Alicia Keys knows how to write a song, knows how to sing a song and knows how to express a song even with a voice that sometimes is limited – she wrings the emotion out of every syllable be it with a whisper (“Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”) or a throaty, heartfelt plea (“Love Is My Disease”).

So the album is solid – but is it really that different?  As I Am saw Keys taking risks and incorporating traditional pop and even rock elements into her smoky R&B soul with stellar results (as well as a couple of lackluster songs), and that sound continues here, but in places incorporating 80s drums and synths – this sound is definitely in vogue (I still struggle to understand why), but at least Alicia Keys sounds less like she is pandering to fashion than most artists – again, this is tribute to her genuine musicianship.  I find it hard to say that I am “shocked” by anything on this album – ok, for the first time her intro is a spoken-word explanation of the album title and concept rather than a pianist showcase.  Her collaboration with Beyoncé, “Put It In A Love Song”, is fun and the closest Keys has ever come to club-ready, and Beyoncé’s voice and swagger doesn’t dominate the song as I might have feared – the two artists compliment each other perfectly and adeptly ride the compelling bassline. But here is where the surprises end – opening track “Love Is Blind” performs the same function as previous opening tracks “Go Ahead”, “Karma” and “Girlfriend”, in that they are uptempo, loop-driven productions that display the singer’s confidence before she delves into her vulnerability later in the album.  “Unthinkable (I’m Ready)” sounds almost too similar to The Diary Of Alicia Keys‘ “Slow Down”, and while “This Bed” provides an interesting diversion on Freedom, its The-Dream-esque synths and piano are really echoing Prince (which is 80% of what The-Dream does anyway) – and Alicia Keys already covered Prince at the start of her career (“How Come U Don’t Call Me”).  The album ends on a legitimate high with “How It Feels To Fly” and “Empire State Of Mind” exploring her ideals of freedom, exhilaration and expressing her love for New York – but she’s even played those cards before, at the end of As I Am (“Sure Looks Good To Me”) and The Diary (“Streets Of New York”).

As stated earlier, the most interesting aspect of the album, lyrically speaking, is matching the songs to Alicia Keys’ newly revealed love for Swizz Beatz, never mind his marriage.  Her feelings about it resonate through the titles – “Love Is Blind”, “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, “Love Is My Disease” and particularly “Unthinkable”.  Lyrics such as “Some people might call me crazy for falling in love with you” (“That’s How Strong My Love Is”) and “I’m wondering maybe could I make you my baby / If we do the unthinkable, would it make us go crazy? / If you ask me, I’m ready” (“Unthinkable”) speak for themselves.  Obviously, as members of the public there’s only so much we know about the situation, and only a certain percentage of that is remotely true – but the artists put their souls on a record and we can’t help but speculate, at the same time as we feel the songs and apply them to our own lives and emotions.

So The Element Of Freedom is, generally, more of the same from Alicia Keys.  It’s not nearly as risky as Keys herself might proclaim, and it’s not the best album of 2009, but it does provide some moments of genuine exhilaration, and there are plenty of strong tracks to make the weaker ones (“Like The Sea”, “Wait Til You See My Smile”) nothing to gripe about.  What’s more, Keys has found some freedom in being brave enough to write about her love and experiences in a new way – and if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past three months, it’s that love is stronger than anything and I can feel most of what she’s singing about.  Her piano playing compliments the songs without ever becoming a gimmick.  And anyway, after all, if Alicia Keys is providing more of the same, she’s still doing a damn sight better than your average R&B chick.  The lyrics are still simple but deep, the music is still soulful yet current, the songs are still well-written and hooky.  I believe Keys has a better album in her yet (The Diary Of Alicia Keys is still my personal favourite), but I thoroughly commend her for not dipping in quality throughout the past 7 years.

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caged bird.

September 17, 2009

“Right now I feel like a bird
Caged without a key
Everyone comes to stare at me
With so much joy and reverie

They don’t know how I feel inside
Through my smile, I cry
They don’t know what they’re doing to me
Keeping me from flying
That’s why I say that

I know why the caged bird sings
Only joy comes from song
He’s so rare and beautiful to others
Why not just set him free

So he can fly, fly, fly
Spreading his wings and his songs
Let him fly, fly, fly
For the whole world to see”

–  “Caged Bird”, Alicia Keys (Songs In A Minor)

I was listening to this song on the way to work this morning, and I remember I used to empathise with the lyrics so, so much.  I really used to feel like I was in a golden cage.  I was always very good at school, getting top marks, and I consistently made my parents proud.  Whether it was my perfect results, glowing reports from teachers, the fact I never did drugs or drink or really anything stupid, I was not an angel but I was a pretty good kid.  And yet I wasn’t happy.  My parents had a very tempestuous relationship, every time I ‘acted up’ (be it legitimately or just deviating from the strict guidelines of my family) I was reprimanded, and I felt effectively like the moment I put a foot wrong, despite all of my success and demonstrated maturity, I would have pleased those who wanted me to fail and let down those who told me I had a bright future ahead of me but secretly hoped, almost expected me to fall down at some point.  It wasn’t easy, and sometimes (though I’m glad to say, more occasionally these days) I still feel that way.  The friends that I had at school called me names because I was good at academic stuff, because I was gay, but in the end I grew a thick skin and somehow ended up popular – but it’s all nothing, because however people perceived me (particularly back then), it was rarely anything close to who I actually am.  Sometimes people just see a certain part of your façade and choose to put in you in a box that’s easier for them to understand, despite the fact that they may pigeon hole you incorrectly.  So I also felt “caged” in that respect, that my peers would look at me as having ‘everything’ (not being as wealthy as most of them, but having more brains in spite of that – as if the two were connected! Winning awards and positions of responsibility, having a fair amount of friends – even though in the long run they didn’t last – and being able to look nice in my later years only added to this perception that I was lucky.  And I was lucky, but not in the ways that they thought.) but in reality I was a different person and my life was not as easy and carefree as they perceived it to be (especially when they would try to make it more difficult!).

But listening to the song, I didn’t feel that it was ‘my song’ the way I used to, and I guess that is a very good thing.  I don’t feel ‘caged’ anymore.  I have power over my own destiny and have done since I left Oxford.  I may still live at home, but it was my decision this time to go back to university; it was me who got my new job at the BRI (something which was finally a breakthrough from retail); it is me who will decide to learn to drive.  I mean, my results and my decisions were always my responsibility, but now I am 23 I am old enough to say and decide what I want to do without family or friends influencing me or saying I should do this or that.  Well, they may still make plenty of recommendations, but I choose whether to listen and I don’t feel obligated to follow their advice anymore.  I guess it’s a sign of getting older, but people are finally accepting that I have common sense and I have my own reasons for deciding to do what I want to do and how I want to do it.  And those reasons are respected.  It’s a good feeling – although everyone enjoys feeling like they are the underdog in a perverse way, it’s refreshing to finally feel like I am in charge of my destiny (regardless what anyone says!).  Sometimes it is hard living up to people’s expectations, and sometimes I might breakdown, but I know that those expectations are primarily my own expectations.  I am hard on myself and I guess that I always with me.  But if I’m alright with me, then that’s the most important thing.

I love this song because it also reminds me of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, which I am still only midway through – once I finish American Psycho (which will be soon), I may try and finish it, though the book is so damn big it’s not practical to carry it around with me.  We’ll see.  But at the same time that our problems are always biggest to us whereas in the context of the whole world they may be quite small, compared to things such as racial injustice, rape, and other things that Maya Angelou went through that I have no personal experience of, there’s nothing wrong with me or my life.  It’s just a work in progress.  And I like to think that that is quite healthy.