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Alicia Keys, ‘The Element of Freedom’ (J)

Alicia Keys’ 2007 smash “No One” launched this once-precocious R&B singer to U2-level save-the-world-with-song status. So you can’t really blame her for carbon-copying its charms in “Doesn’t Mean Anything,” the openly anthemic lead single from Keys’ fourth studio set. (Also unsurprising: the tune’s plodding similarity to “With or Without You.”) Yet on an album called The Element of Freedom you may wonder where all the freedom went: In most of these dozen tracks (not including a ponderous intro regarding the necessity of risk and a slow-jam sequel to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind”) Keys seems uninterested in breaking new ground, snooze-controlling her way through a series of familiar piano-soul platitudes. A couple of nifty exceptions brighten things up, such as “Love Is Blind,” an 808s & Heartbreak-style future-funk jam, and “Put It in a Love Song,” which features the always dependable Beyoncé. But The Element of Safety might’ve been a more accurate title.

WATCH: Alicia Keys, “Doesn’t Mean Anything”

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