licia Keys made her big splash a few months before the September 11 attacks, but she was the perfect artist to steer MTV into the post-9-11 world. A classically trained pianist and earnest songwriter young enough to be a classmate of Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, she conveyed maturity without having to boast how dirrrty she was, and demonstrated youth appeal without the cheap frivolity of her chart-topping peers. At a time when even Carson Daly had to pretend that he cared about the fate of humanity, Keys was like manna dropped directly on TRL's Times Square studio: a teen-pop star with soul.
Because Keys seemed so preferable to her airplay competition (and because J Records boss Clive Davis whipped up his usual barrage of hype for her unveiling), critics tended to overstate the quality of Keys' promising debut CD, Songs In A Minor. While tracks like "Jane Doe," "A Woman's Worth," and the breakthrough hit "Fallin' (brazenly bitten from James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World") hinted at a major songwriter trying to bust out of those tight braids, much of the CD was pro forma - if pleasantly inoffensive - modern R&B.
| CD SPOTLIGHT
The Diary Of Alicia Keys
Keys has made much about the wild musical experimentation and deep soul baring that went into her new The Diary of Alicia Keys
, but the record is dominated by the kind of smooth soul ballads that got her a record deal in the first place. And when she does stretch out on the hard metallic funk of "Heartburn," she's sunk by trite lyrics that make sexual passion sound like a case of acid reflux. But even if Diary
covers familiar ground, it does so with a greater assurance than Keys demonstrated on Songs
. The single, "You Don't Know My Name" is an irresistible love confession, and tracks like "Wake Up" and "So Simple" show Keys striving for a female version of the socially conscious R&B balladry of her idol, Stevie Wonder. Unfortunately, at this point, she shares more with another of her idols, Donny Hathaway. Like Hathaway, she's a brooding romantic whose vocal gifts outpace her songwriting. •