It's a sad truth, but many creative types produce their best works when suffering. Alicia Keys wrote As I Am after her grandmother passed away, and it was one of the best albums of 2008, a heartfelt, emotion-packed, melodically glorious offering. If the rumours are to be believed, Keys is currently loved up - seemingly as a consequence, her latest album, The Element of Freedom, isn't a patch on the last.
The main problem seems to be the lack of piano compared to the earlier trio of releases - Keys' ivory-tickling skills set her far apart from other young female chanteueses. But, as many others have chosen to do over the last 18 months, Keys has filled her tunes with drum machines, 80s-esque synthesizers and vocoders galore rather than her stunning piano and sweetly husky vocals.
This is far from a bad album. It combines genres as diverse as reggae (Love is my Disease), Stax-style R'n'B (This Bed), Coldplay vibes (Wait Til You See My Smile) and 'obligatory pop duet' (Put It In a Love Song, with Beyonce).
There are flashes of genius in Prince homage Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart; bonus track Pray For Forgiveness, practically the only one to show off Keys' unadulterated voice; and Empire State of Mind (Part II), an New York story which is just waiting to be included in a Broadway show.
Keys fans who can temporarily forget As I Am will grow to accept this as a new side to the star.
YP rating: 3/5