Review: Alicia Keys Gets Gritty, Eclectic, Political on 'Here'

Our take on the songwriter's eighth album

'Here' is Alicia Keys' eighth album.

Alicia Keys' eighth album downplays her classical training in favor of a grittier R&B edge. She roughs up the piano she once played prettily, endows her vocal exertions with more church than ever, and leans into a solid old-school hip-hop backbone fortified in large part by her husband Swizz Beatz. Her socially consciousness lyrics are as tough as her sound, from the sex-positive pacifism of "Holy War" to the inner city blues of "The Gospel," where her raw holler skirts the edge of despair. But Here also offers hope: "More Than We Know" is an uncommonly strong anthem of uplift (bolstered by actually acknowledging the everyday reality experienced by the kids it preaches to) and "Blended Family (What You Do for Love)," which celebrates Keys' real-life co-parenting experiences with her husband's ex-wife, suggests how caring can build community. And musically, the way a boom-bap here brushes up against a Latin flourish there while Seventies soul echoes nearby suggests less a fusion of styles than an atmosphere the singer inhabits – these are the sounds New Yorkers overhear blasting from passing cars and seeping from pedestrian earbuds, reimagined as a hectic but coherent symphony.