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Alicia Keys

I used to have a theory that girls with braids were frigid...


Songs In A Minor

Alicia Keys is a really hot, nearly not-legal piano playing R&B singer that came out and sold a zillion albums and became really big when I was in Russia, so I missed the whole thing. She only has one album, which I'm able to listen to for free, so here goes...

Songs In A Minor - J Records 2001

I dunno, modern R&B like this has a short shelf life. Remember Erikah Badu? Yeah, I bought that album too, and I still have it (my wife likes it), but I don't really think I want to listen to it anymore. It's like that big huge Hollywood big-balled blockbuster movie you thought you really liked. On my very first date ever I went with this group of people and one of them was my 'date' who I'd never seen before. She turned out to be pretty cute (we didn't click...I was too much of a dork that year, but I got cooler pretty soon after that) and we saw Terminator II. Me and all my other 15 year old stoner friends and their dates, half of them wasted and the other half spilling their viginal body fluids all over the area next to me and my date, and I remember the movie quite possibly being the best thing I'd ever seen. I raved on the thing for, like, a month afterwards, how it changed what I thought about movies and all this other 15 year old crap when you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground and probably get a hardon thinking about either one. Well, a few months after that I went back to see it again with my friend and it no longer seemed at all what I remembered. It was still pretty good, but I noticed that most of what I liked about it were the special effect surprises, and that when I already knew all the tricks and surprises (my friend didn't though, and was jaw-dropped just like I'd been) and judged it on things like story and acting and characters (I probably wouldn't have said it like that then, though. I would've said, 'It's dorky.'), it was just an ordinary flick. Alicia Keys' record suffers the same fate.

The fundamentals of Songs in A Minor is that Alicia Keys, some time in her past, bought the soundtracks to Superfly and Shaft, and cuddles way too close to those records for her own good on a lot of the songs. She takes all the 70's soundtrack-funk trappings and bases songs around them, rather than relying on a memorable melody. Alicia Keys wears 70's and 80's R&B like an outfit taken off the racks. 'Rock Wit You' is almost like a cliche-fest: flutes a-twiddlin', the Love Unlimited Orchestra called back in from the unemployment line, the Michael Jackson-ripoff song-title...this is just retrophilia, and I don't buy it. She probably thinks it's 'tight' they could recreate all these old sounds, but I think it's lame. Save the bongos for a song that matters, Alicia, make it pop in our ears...don't blow your wad making the perfect 'retro song'. That said, I'm pretty happy she looks back in a way that most of the time comes across as being a geniune love for early 70's soul, I mean she could be a Whitney or a Mariah and just use her pipes for shallow floor routines over songs written by other people. While Alicia has the vocal capability to pull off the triple reverse lutz axle cameltoe, she has enough taste to sing straight when the material calls for it, at least most of the time.

The other major crossover cliches Alicia makes good use of is the classical piano (in a minor key! She's nothing if not honest!) and the gospel choir. Or if not a choir of backup singers, a choir of Alicias all bouncing and gymnasticating all over each other like some Azerbaijani trampolinists. While 'Girlfriend' sounds like it could have been done by TLC, or shit, even Carole King, I get annoyed by the chorus of Alicia's placed so far in the foreground. It's obviously compensating for a chorus that shamefully lacks a hook. I also can't tell you much about 'How Come You Don't Call Me' or 'Troubles' (which falls into the trap of sounding like a bunch of samples strung together rather than an actual 'performance'), but the hit 'Fallin' gets over on chutzpah and cheese doodles. It's the only track where I can imagine the song being held to the high standards of someone like Patti Labelle or even the mighty Aretha. The classical piano arpeggios and strings mesh with the well-crafted vocal arrangements, and I'm transported back to Atlantic Records, 1971. Thank you Alicia, now if you could only do that every time. She aims at lower targets on 'A Woman's Worth', and pulls off a pretty uncanny Erikah Badu impression. The second side of this CD doesn't play anything but a bunch of pops and giggles, but imagine for me if you will a second side, and imagine the second side of this album is slow going...she relies on groove and cliche more than ever, gets her Marvin/Diana duet groove some work on the great 'Mr. Man', really pulls hard on the torchy balladisms on 'Butterflyz' and 'Caged Bird', and even includes a 'bonus track' at the end. Why a bonus track, why not just include it as a regular track? Was this not included on the 8-track version of Songs In A Minor or something? Just more marketing, ladies and get 'more for your money with Alicia Keys!!' Luckily 'Loving U' is a great track or I'd really rip into it.

So, what all this pointless drivel in the badly constructed preceding two paragraphs points to is this: Songs In A Minor is a great album to have on when you're having dinner with your sweet lady friend over some candles and flowers and shit like that. But it isn't made for serious listening. Few of the tracks stink out loud, but I am left totally unconvinced in Alicia's ability to write great songs consistently...she's much better at making mediocre songs sound good with all the retro fittings. When she can fill an album with 'Fallin's and 'Lovin U's, I'll take her more seriously. As it is, she'd sound great on the Shaft II soundtrack.

Capn's Final Word: Good album for covering all the usual 'romantic soul' bases. Good singing, good production, professional background. But it's not an album that stands up to close listening. Erikah Badu for 2001.

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Drew     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: Songs is an O.K. album, but the only reason that album was made is cause she's good lookin and can play a piano. But don't go a-dissin' Erykah Badu, her second album, Mama's Gun, was probably the second best album to come out in 2000 (a great year for music), just edged out by Kid A. There ain't a track I skip, and the last track proves that she is as close to Diana Ross as anyone is going to get nowadays. She is the only person doing anything inventive or relevent in R&B/soul these days.

George Freedman    Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?: Alicia may be talented and good-looking, but so far everything about her suggests that she hasn't yet matured as an artist (and the hype around her is very much undeserved) and is mostly a ripoff.... As much as I hate to burst your bubble, Ryan, the one song that you're impressed by her, "Fallin", is a ripoff of James Brown's "This Is a Man's Man's Man's World"... and, you know when the hype around an artist is based mostly around a song that she ripped-off, that's just not good....

It's interesting -- was she trying to pay tribute to Stevie Wonder with that album title? If she was, she sure as heck embarrased herself...

TanishaSmith     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: A+!!! First of all who the hell are you? I do not like your comment about R&B being a redneck code. You don't even deserve to listen to our music if you are going to be shallow and ignorant about it. Alicia keys is a talented artist. She does more than sing. You obviosly have no clue what REAL music.Just stick to your rock-n-roll: yelling and screaming, nobody has no idea what your singing about, throwing yourself off stage, burning up people in clubs, need i say more about the talentless group of individuals called "musicians". You said that you thought girls with braids were frigid? Where do come from? I've wore braids all my life. It has nothing to do with your personality. Its about culture. People do US a favor and SHUT UP!

(Capn's Response: I hear they're doing great things with female reproductive disorders these days, Tanisha...)

shan    Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: girls with braids r frigit? let me start by saying what a doumbass assumption. i love alicia and her first album she is smart beautiful and talented and hard working. i relate to the experiences and agree with messages in her songs. you a nasty man. not for anything you said about alicia but your final word to tanisha. you sound like a racist sexist arogent (yeah that aint spelt right) pigs piece of shit. p.s i nly came across this coz i was looking for picture of braids coz im getting my hair done tomorrow.   


Ray Russell  Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?:	Tanisha, he meant it's what stupid, close-minded rockers call it so when it is clearly still rock & roll.  Which it is.  The only difference is... that there was a racial rift at the time rock 
came into being so they were culturally separated, which created minor sound differences at the time but it is undeniably the same musical genre.  And this album is not a fine representation of R&B as a whole, 
it's pretty weak.

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