Posts Tagged ‘Girlfriend’

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take off running.

April 4, 2010

Happy Easter everyone!  I am fast becoming a bit of a scrooge, dreading any kind of holiday because it means not that I will have to spend money (something that I have absolutely no trouble doing, as you should all know by now) but because there will be some form of family gathering. Today hasn’t been as bad as Christmas, because there are buses running and I have taken refuge in Starbucks after a quick dinner with my parents and grandmother – I’ve even accomplished some work (wonders never cease)!  But discussing my current relationship with my family yesterday with Davina and Frankie, and reminiscing over my historical experience of family gatherings with Hannah on msn earlier today, it’s not really a surprise that being in these kind of situations makes me uncomfortable.  So making a swift (but polite – I thanked my dad for a lovely Easter lunch and gave my nan an appreciative hug, promising that I would see her again soon) exit makes sense and allows me to preserve my own good mood and sanity.

When I was younger, every 27th December (roughly) we would drive up to London (or thereabouts) to see my father’s side of the family for a Christmas gathering.  The venue would rotate each year depending on who was hosting the gathering, and to be fair the food was nice enough and I don’t remember anyone being particularly nasty to me.  However, I do remember the competitive atmosphere between my father and his siblings – comparing families’ progress and ‘success’, wealth, partners and so on.  Being from Bristol, we were the “poor relations” in comparison with the other families who would pretend to be upper class right down to their accents, and my mother being Italian led to a sense of exclusion and some prodding jokes from certain members of the family (this is racism!).  Despite the fact that my father was largely absent during my childhood, and when he was there he was either drunk, argumentative and mentally / verbally abusive, or sleeping, my intelligence (which, much to their chagrin, undeniably outclassed all of my more “well-to-do” cousins – money doesn’t buy smarts, and I promise that in this case I’m not being up myself, it’s just the truth) and good traits were attributed to him rather than to my mother (who raised me more or less single-handed).  Because of this, and because of the fact that the other members of this family were largely self-absorbed to the point of being imbecilic, I didn’t really enjoy these yearly outings, because it seemed like a lot of chest-puffing and bravado for no real purpose.

My grandmother (the head of that side of the family, who seemed to portray herself as the Queen) died when I was 17. From the age of 17, we never had any more of those yearly gatherings. Nearly all of my father’s siblings’ marriages (and some of my cousins’ relationships) broke apart, one aunt declared she was a lesbian and moved her secret girlfriend in, and we never heard from them again.  In other words, all that competitiveness and fuckery had been for show, for my grandmother.  For what purpose, who knows? Interestingly, for all the dysfunction and stress in my family, we stayed together through thick and thin, and I had always got on better with my mother’s side of the family (though they are far from perfect), even though they were from another country – gasp!  But I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not, and that’s the same issue that drives me crazy now, but in a different way.

I can’t be an angel for my grandmother (the one who’s still alive, obv) – I never really was an angel, but I’ve gotten darker over the past year.  I’m 24 years old and I can’t be treated like I’m 12 by anyone – I am not on drugs, I don’t have an eating disorder or a gambling addiction and I find it frankly insulting to be accused of those things by my mother, the woman to whom I was so close during my childhood.  Shouldn’t she know me better?  Shouldn’t she credit me with more intelligence, show me more respect?  Has everything I’ve accomplished, the fact I’ve never gotten into trouble – does that all mean nothing?  It really hurts me when I have to suffer those things, even if they’re just jibes, coming from my family – the people who are supposed to be on my side more often than not feel like they are against me now, when I’m just being myself and having my own independent thoughts, opinions and life.  I refuse to compromise, I refuse to conform – I’m an adult, why should I? And shouldn’t my family be proud that I am my own man with my own mind? I don’t understand why I have to give itemised accounts of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve eaten. That’s why these days, given the slightest opportunity, I’ll take off running out the door, because my friends (the only family I feel I have these days), my sanity, my freedom is out there.

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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.