I've been listening to Alicia Keys' new single, "No One," pretty much once or twice a day for several weeks now, ever since the VMAs really. I've always loved Alicia. Her confidence, her strident intellectualism coupled with her warmth and humanism, and of course, the songs and that voice. When it comes to modern soul and r&b, she is about as classic as it gets. She lets hip hop influence her, but without letting it be overwhelming, succumbing to obvious samples or the formula of having a guest rapper spew dextrous nonsense over the bridge.
"No One" is a deceptively flabby song. On first listen, it didn't sound like much, but as it sinks in, it reveals itself to be a marvel of structural commitment. It has a head-nodding beat, but a soft piano line that, were you to separate it and build on it, dare I compare it to the "Moonlight Sonata"? At the same time, the melody works as kind of a tow line. Powered by Alicia's voice, it drags the listener along, leading us through the narrative with such an unhampered grace, that it's one of those 45s you can put on repeat and let run on for hours.
Thematically, this is naturally a song I can get behind. There's not a lot to the lyrics. "I love you and nothing will stop me from loving you." That's really it. What sells it is the vocal performance. For "No One," Alicia pushes and stretches her vocal chords and shoots for a range level that must be incredibly difficult to sustain. While a less courageous singer would find their 10 somewhere midway through the tune and never go beyond, Alicia starts at 10, maintains it, but also continually pushes to see if she can find an 11, even letting her voice crack in certain lines, letting the note warble off its center. I'm pretty jaded about bum notes. Indie bands who profess to have never learned how to modulate and control their instrument on into their third, fourth, or fifth album have kind of ruined the effect of an honest misfire. The more cracks they calculate, the more fake it gets. Not so here. That she manages to achieve this while also sounding more honeyed than ever is the true accomplishment of the recording.
Funnily enough, "No One" actually makes me think of my old Britpop cable-access show "@lright." She uses the word twice in the space of four lines of the pre-chorus. For the opening of every episode, we'd always pick a new song where the word "alright," improper British spelling and all, was used. It's pretty easy to find the phrase in rock and pop on a normal day, but if there was a limited supply, the Britpop heyday would have put "alright" on the endangered species list. In my usual contrary nature, I'd have loved to have used Alicia Keys and befuddle those tuning in expecting to hear Cast or Supergrass. My co-hosts wouldn't have liked it, but I would have found a way.
For Alicia, you can always find a way, and never let no one tell you different.
Current Soundtrack: Alicia Keys
Current Mood: no one
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All text (c) 2007 Jamie S. Rich