Self-examination or self-indulgence? Alicia Keys’ ALICIA reviewed

In a year of social unrest in America, Alicia Keys’ seventh album is both a soothing balm and a rousing call to arms.

ALICIA – stylised in all caps – sees the 15-time Grammy winner continue to excavate her own life and experiences for material.

According to Keys, these 15 songs are her most personal to date.

MTV Video Music Awards 2016 – Arrivals – New York
MTV Video Music Awards 2016 – Arrivals – New York

This is some claim, coming from the artist who named her second album, released in 2003, The Diary Of Alicia Keys.

Across a dizzying array of genres, we see an artist in full flight, shackled by nothing apart from her imagination.

Time Machine offers a deep, introspective groove beset by swirling atmospherics, as Keys sings about her angst and regrets.

Underdog is a more straightforward ballad – a paean to the “hustlers trading at the bus stop, single mothers waited on a cheque” backed by exquisite guitar and piano.

So Done, a duet with Khalid, sees Keys ruminating on her changing identity.

The mood is overwhelmingly contemplative, sometimes even sombre, but always buoyed by an uplifting message.

However, her lyrics tend towards the abstract and Keys never truly turns the spotlight on herself, instead telling stories about those around her.

The album is meant as a counterpoint to Keys’ memoir More Myself: A Journey, which was published in March on Oprah’s imprint.

ALICIA make more sense when you know her story – the classical piano training, ballet and gymnastics classes she struggled through as a child to rise above the tough nature of her upbringing in New York City.

Those looking for revelations about Keys’ personal life will be disappointed, but those in search of undeniable songwriting and an unparalleled voice will leave satisfied.

Rating: 8/10