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Alicia Keys’ “ORIGINALS”

It has been just over a year since fans enjoyed her last album, Alicia, and with the addition of the 20th Anniversary Edition of Songs in A Minor, the December 10th release of Alicia Keys eighth studio album, simply titled KEYS came as something of a surprise to the R&B singer’s fans. The 26-song double album, which clocks in at over 93 minutes, would be split into two parts, one falling under the title Originals, while the other would be a more upbeat, hip-hop blend known as Unlocked.

Filled with “laidback piano vibes” as the singer describes, Originals, which was co-produced by her husband, Swizz Beats, features 14 new tracks and two guest appearances by Pusha T and Brandi Carlile. Unfortunately for Keys fans, it feels as though the album is void of memorable tracks or timeless hits. Although there may not be any chart-toppers, this album may be one that is best listened to as background office music or while relaxing at home. Filled with the soulful piano ballads that listeners have come to expect from the fifteen-time Grammy winner, most of the 14 songs seem to take fans on a stripped-down journey of Keys’ new approach to superficial perfection.

Describing her album as something of a homecoming, Keys notes, “I feel like I’ve come back to myself. It’s almost like I started here. I went all the way over here, and then I kind of find myself around back to there.”

Unlike her seventh studio album Alicia, which featured plenty of guest appearances both vocally, and as part of the writing and producing teams, Originals gives fans a more intimate feel, which could be as the result of a period of time during the pandemic in which the singer admits she felt uninspired and facing writer’s block. During an interview with FADER, Keys admitted that finding her own space at the studio helped to unlock her creativity. “When I left there and kind of had my own space a bit, then I started to get really creative, like really creative, and then I found more of a well. And I had a little more time to process and just be okay with everything.”

With plenty of piano and jazz-influenced harmonies, Originals kicks off with “Plentiful”, featuring a guest appearance by Pusha T. For the first 45 seconds, Keys shows off her talents tickling the ivory before the rapper drops a verse that hints as to the up-tempo tracks that will come as part of the Unlocked album.

“Best of Me,” which samples Sade’s “Cherish the Day,” the first single from Originals, is one of the best tracks on the album. It displays the beautiful melodies blended with the intimate lyrics that Keys has become famous for. “Old Memories” gives listeners some hints of 1960s soul. “Like Water”, which was co-written by Sia, closes out the Originals version of the double-disc, taking fans back to a ballad version of Alicia that was found on each of her seven previous albums and could very well be the hidden gem of the first fourteen tracks.

While it may take a couple of run-throughs to truly appreciate, Originals is an album rich in vocals and melodies that will grow on you each time you listen. Perfect for listening to while curled up on the couch with a good book or while studying, the classic soul feel reminds listeners of some early Alicia Keys slow tempo songs from her early years and continues to prove to the world that R&B ballads are still popular heading into 2022.

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