The first thing that I thought about when I listened to Alicia Keys' fourth album, The Element Of Freedom, was whether she had been doing a mind-meld (in a creative sense) with Phil Collins (during his Both Sides period). This connection, however odd it may be, is simply because she seems to be going further into her emotions and willing to describe the complicated grey area that is love.
There are a couple of attempts at being cheerful in this complication with "Doesn't Mean Anything" and "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart", but songs like "Love Is Blind" and "Love Is My Disease" seem to forgo the cutesy melody and allow Keys to express her herself and let her voice shine through. One of my favorite tracks from the album is "Unthinkable", which deals with taking a chance on love however crazy it may seem. Another favorite mine is "What It Means To Fly", which is nice combination of synth and piano (with the piano getting more of a push).
A few people here and there over the years have tried to suggest that Alicia Keys isn't deep lyrically. You could make that argument perhaps towards her second album, The Diary Of Alicia Keys. Starting with As I Am, and leading to The Element Of Freedom, I gather that Keys knew her style had to change. Freedom, much more than As I Am, showcases that fact.
If you are looking to the days of the younger Alicia Keys, that person no longer exists. The Element Of Freedom showcases a newer, much more confident and mature Alicia who isn't afraid on this album to let her words do the talking. As a matter of fact, purchase As I Am and The Element Of Freedom together and witness the evolution take place to see what I mean.
There are rumors that Alicia may wish to retire soon. With this album, I seriously doubt that she would consider that. She gets better with age, kinda like Sade does.
Come to think of it, those two should do a duet.