Extensions of a Woman

Alicia Keys is still a few albums away from her masterpiece. She'll get there.

The song that expresses Keys's Stevie-as-a-superwoman bent better, though, is actually "Go Ahead": a ditty from that giddy, full-press marching-papers tradition of break-up songs where the woman gets over Holmes's stank ass before the doorknob hits him where the pitbull bit him. Pragmatists note: "Teenage Love Affair" is a more energetic, fail-safe fallback reprise of 2003's "You Don't Know My Name," because this is a pop career we're dealing with here and not Pink Floyd's. But while "Where Do We Go From Here" sounds like she decided a mash-up of Prince's "Do Me Baby" and "Purple Rain" wouldn't make anybody mad, damned if she doesn't make it happen. Her harmonies? Sick, lush, and slick as black velvet. Her sense of drama? Ready for the Revolution. And As I Am's closer, "Sure Looks Good to Me" (her Linda Perry collab), is the kind of kitchen-sink, plain-chant, sanctified, passion-play power-ballad we thought only the Family Stand's Peter Lord could deliver in the postmodern era. My bad—and I mean, damn, what an anthem. Big, corny, self-empowering, bromide-filled, and bountiful, just like we like 'em. Stand up, raise your fists, flic your Bics, and weep, muhfuhkuhs.

Final analysis: If you're as old in r&b years as my dirty-dogg ass, you can't help but listen to As I Am like we once listened to Public Enemy, calling every quotation in the air, from the first triad. Only dig this, recognize: Keys is doing ministry here. Ministry for all her generation and those unborn who can't know '70s flavor like the back of their soul-clapped palms. Call it revival, call it a soul woman's work in the struggle, call it what it is: her right to sing the blues. And be thankful, godammit. Thankful because while my brothers in Black Pop revel, go for self and implode, Keys and her sisters remind us that while yes, there will always be blood—one more hairbrush morphed into a pistol in a pig's eye (five pigs' eyes, actually)—our world must must must be aswim in black-and-blue praisesongs, worksongs, torchsongs, naked and gospel truths, romance, reflection, redemption, sunshine, rain, and maybe, Family, a bit more nguzo saba umoja ujima, kuumba kujichagulia.

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