November 12, 2007

Shortcuts—Alicia Keys's As I Am

Coming from a girl who once preached, “You don’t know my name,” Alicia Keys has accomplished more than a name can encompass. The benevolent charity work, promising acting career, and budding musical endeavors are a miniscule part of the maturation of Keys, and As I Am is yet another example of this development.

The youthful, yet established, tones found in Songs in A Minor succeeded in announcing Keys’s presence as she went from “Fallin’” in and out of love to substantiating the worth of a woman. Divulging her emotions, Keys unlocked her Diary, exposing some of her most intimate work to date. With As I Am, she strips away all of the glitzy makeup and synthesized production, leaving listeners with something that can only be described as raw.

Though tracks like “Where Do We Go From Here,” “Tell You Something,” and “Sure Looks Good to Me” sound more like broken records playing endlessly on repeat, shining bits of Keys’s signature musical ingenuity and vocal prowess flicker through the rubble. Even John Mayer’s lackluster assurance that “it’s all right” (even though the song is not) in “Lesson Learned” does not discourage her from squeezing every last drop out of each lyric that passes through her lips. Yet nothing can repair the mess Linda Perry made when she paired up with Keys to produce “The Thing About Love,” an overly dramatized B-side from Sesame Street.

Yet when Keys shines, she does so like an old brooch with a fresh coat of Tarnex. Motown never sounded as good as “Teenage Love Affair” and “Wreckless Love,” which boast unyielding horns and substantive harmonies that keep listeners hangin’ on like a Supremes reunion. And in a world where “No means yes, yes, yes,” a montage of brass and bass articulate emotions that even Keys’s lyrics can only begin to comprehend.

Unrelenting bass marches alongside Keys’ spassionate vocals in “No One” as she proudly boasts her equally inexorable and incomparable love. As affectionate as a mother cooing to a child in bed, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” uses compassionate guitars and a delicate xylophone to tell this bedtime story as time ticks away in the background.

For more than half a decade, Keys, like Mrs. Incredible, has prevailed, using her superpowers to rid mainstream music of the Syndrome otherwise known as bad music, and create quality mainstream music for the masses. “Because I am Superwoman,” states Keys. Yes, she is.