Posts Tagged ‘loss’

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end game.

April 18, 2010

It sounds silly to say, considering the last 8 months that I’ve had, but sometimes I still feel a waste of space.  I get down sometimes and I feel so indecisive, so useless… I don’t know what I want.  I have made huge changes and huge improvements in my life, and I am so grateful to that and I appreciate things like I never used to, so I don’t feel I’m being ungrateful or taking anything for granted.  It’s just that despite everything seemingly going my way for once, despite the career change I’m making and the reasons I have for doing it, I still wonder… what is it all for?

I always hated the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I’ve never had any idea, apart from when I was a child and I used to fantasise about running away and catching a plane to America at age 13, so I could be a superfamous pop singer by the magical age of 17.  Needless to say, that didn’t quite pan out (although I am very proud of my latest album Quiet Storm) and since then, I’ve felt at a loss, and somewhat a failure, for not having achieved that ridiculous and yet wildly romantic childhood dream.  In much the same way as I’ve been academically brilliant, I have always been able to sing, dance, write songs and play instruments because I just always assumed that I was capable of those things.  I never doubted myself, and through sheer force of will and plain naïve arrogance I turned out to be really good at all of that.  The only time I’ve ever failed any kind of test was my driving test, and 5 years on I’m making moves to finally erase that failure.  Generally, I’ve believed in myself and it’s pushed me to the top.  So why am I not famous, successful, rich and happy?

I look to my twin Ciara. She was born on the exact same day as me, and in her life she’s accomplished exactly what I wanted to but never did. Where did I go wrong? Did I ever have a chance, or was it just luck?  If I had my life over again, what could I do differently to end up where she is? Does that mean my achievements are nothing? I’m not going to brag about anything I’ve done in my life (the last paragraph sounded plenty up myself for this entry) but I know that I’ve achieved things which are pretty decent, some would say admirable.  But it means far less to me than perhaps it should, because it’s never really gotten me anywhere that’s mattered to me.

But then, looking at what the music industry is, especially now, I think perhaps I was naïve in believing that I could give up everything and just be famous.  Having the talent is one thing, but I don’t know if I have the stamina to stick out the years of churning out radio-friendly fodder to get to a stage where I can call some of the shots and have any sort of creative control. Especially now, where I’ve got to the stage of clearly becoming an “adult” (i.e. old) because I find 90% of what is played on the radio recycled garbage.  As I’ve grown my musical identity, I have gained more fixed ideas of what I want musically and who I am, and I certainly don’t fit into any of the current moulds.  I would not last five minutes on X-Factor and similar programmes, because even if I have the talent to make it, I don’t have the obedient personality which can be crammed into a shiny black suit and forced to sing mundane cover versions with choirs and key changes.  Frankly, I’d rather die.

But then, we all end up dying anyway, right? So I have let’s say, 65 years, to make something of my life.  Ideally, I want to have a life where I’m remembered for all time, but that doesn’t seem to be too likely does it? Either I go on a killing spree (which is a little bit messy for my liking), or I become a leading politician (I’d rather go on the killing spree), or I do something incredible on a grand scale.  This incredible thing was going to be the super-influential singing career idea, but I guess I’d rather sing for my friends and those online who appreciate my music (THANKYOU ALL btw!) and get to write, produce and sing the music I want, which means sacrificing the fame. Oh well.

My logic for going into Careers Guidance was to do an incredible thing on a smaller scale.  If I can’t have / don’t want the burdens and trappings of fame, I could still touch people’s lives as an individual, because doing Good Things gives meaning to my life and my actions, and it’s the meaning that I truly seek.  Just as my friends and I influence each other (again, thankyou all of you! YOu know who you are), I would like to be a good influence in people’s lives when they need it most, to enable them to progress and achieve what they want.  If it’s a less grandiose dream, it still has its heart in the right place, I feel.  And perhaps one of the people that I advise, that I support, that I help, will become the superstar I always dreamed of being.  That would make me feel incredibly proud, and perhaps that would be enough. I just hope that I do get a job as a guidance worker somewhere, because I finish this course in 2 months (it’s flown by, hasn’t it!) and I need the money, I need the experience and I also need to get my own place and not waste any more time!  Otherwise I will end up dying, and not having made anything of my life on whatever scale.  And that would be a disappointment and a waste of myself.  I need to make my life a life worth living.

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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.