The pandemic forced the live music industry to grind to a halt in the spring of 2020. And even though musicians were locked down at home with no way of connecting with fans in person, they had the free time to focus on creating new music and preparing to go back out into the world.
Alicia Keys released her self-titled album Alicia in September of last year, but the LP was recorded entirely in the late 2010s while she juggled recording music and parenting with a judging gig on The Voice. Her new double album Keys, out today, is a worthy foil to Alicia: unlike her previous outing, Keys ditches the long list of collaborators for what made her a star in the first place: her voice and the keys of a piano.
The album itself is split into “Originals” and “Unlocked” halves. The Originals portion is packed with toned-down, acoustic tracks, while hip-hop superproducer Mike Will Made It turns up the beat on the Unlocked songs. Artists like Brandi Carlile, Khalid, Lil Wayne, and Lucky Daye join Keys as featured guests across both sides of the record.
For Keys, getting to create a conceptual project like Keys was exactly what she needed after the last year. But Keys wasn’t born out of lockdown; it’s an idea she’s wanted to bring to life for years.
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“The pandemic hit; I didn’t feel creative at all. I had lost my center and didn’t really know how to find peace,” the Grammy winner told Entertainment Weekly. “It started to get quite uncomfortable and frustrating because how do we all return to some form of normalcy, right?”
“So I did get right back in [to the studio] and I knew that I wanted to do this album called Keys. I’ve known it for years. It’s been ready for five years, this concept, and this album really focusing on the piano and being about the songs and the rawness,” she continued. “And as I started to create it, I realized that it was a homecoming for me. It’s so grounded in songwriting and raw expression. I didn’t worry about production. I didn’t worry about anything. It was all about the piano and creating songs that made you feel. And as we were creating, it did actually flow pretty effortlessly.”