A 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.


The Diary Of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys
(J Records)
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. •

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